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Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle

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Published two weeks after his seventieth birthday, Ada, or Ardor is one of Nabokov's greatest masterpieces, the glorious culmination of his career as a novelist. It tells a love story troubled by incest. But more: it is also at once a fairy tale, epic, philosophical treatise on the nature of time, parody of the history of the novel, and erotic catalogue. Ada, or Ardor is no less than the superb work of an imagination at white heat.

This is the first American edition to include the extensive and ingeniously sardonic appendix by the author, written under the anagrammatic pseudonym Vivian Darkbloom.

606 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1969

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About the author

Vladimir Nabokov

709 books12.8k followers
Russian: Владимир Владимирович Набоков .

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, also known by the pen name Vladimir Sirin, was a Russian-American novelist. Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian, then rose to international prominence as a master English prose stylist. He also made significant contributions to lepidoptery, and had a big interest in chess problems.

Nabokov's Lolita (1955) is frequently cited as his most important novel, and is at any rate his most widely known one, exhibiting the love of intricate wordplay and descriptive detail that characterized all his works.

Lolita was ranked fourth in the list of the Modern Library 100 Best Novels; Pale Fire (1962) was ranked 53rd on the same list, and his memoir, Speak, Memory (1951), was listed eighth on the publisher's list of the 20th century's greatest nonfiction. He was also a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction seven times.

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Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,465 reviews3,618 followers
February 8, 2023
Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle is a fabulous and fanciful amorous dystopia. Right away, with his trial balloon: “All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,” Vladimir Nabokov shows that his love story is a wicked and highly intellectual parody of everything, of all and sundry in literary world and especially of Leo Tolstoy with his disdainful arrogance of a falsely omniscient nobleman.
Paraphrasing his showy beginning of Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” Vladimir Nabokov lets us know that this ostentatious statement is just a hollow and preposterous generalization…
“I deduce,” said the boy, “three main facts: that not yet married Marina and her married sister hibernated in my lieu de naissance; that Marina had her own Dr. Krolik, pour ainsi dire; and that the orchids came from Demon who preferred to stay by the sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother.”
“I can add,” said the girl, “that the petal belongs to the common Butterfly Orchis; that my mother was even crazier than her sister; and that the paper flower so cavalierly dismissed is a perfectly recognizable reproduction of an early-spring sanicle that I saw in profusion on hills in coastal California last February. Dr. Krolik, our local naturalist, to whom you, Van, have referred, as Jane Austen might have phrased it, for the sake of rapid narrative information (you recall Brown, don’t you, Smith?), has determined the example I brought back from Sacramento to Ardis, as the Bear-Foot, B,E,A,R, my love, not my foot or yours, or the Stabian flower girl’s—an allusion, which your father, who, according to Blanche, is also mine, would understand like this” (American finger-snap). “You will be grateful,” she continued, embracing him, “for my not mentioning its scientific name. Incidentally the other foot—the Pied de Lion from that poor little Christmas larch, is by the same hand—possibly belonging to a very sick Chinese boy who came all the way from Barkley College.”

This baffling and brain-crushing conversation of two frivolous children smartly demonstrates that everything mocks everything else:
Butterflies mock flowers and orchids mock butterflies;
The absurd family tree mocks genealogy of monarchs;
Ada's supposed father’s death of exposure caused by running naked into the woods parodies the last days of Leo Tolstoy;
Beating the blackmailer with alpenstock mocks the Leon Trotsky’s murder;
Ada’s husband contracting tuberculosis in Switzerland, of all places, is a jeering allusion to The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.
Lucette’s suicide, while cruising on the transatlantic ship, the Tobakoff, is a funny reference to the catastrophic voyage of Titanic;
And so on ad infinitum.
Refuting the determinist’s statement more elegantly: unconsciousness, far from awaiting us, with flyback and noose, somewhere ahead, envelops both the Past and the Present from all conceivable sides, being a character not of Time itself but of organic decline natural to all things whether conscious of Time or not. That I know others die is irrelevant to the case. I also know that you, and, probably, I, were born, but that does not prove we went through the chronal phase called the Past: my Present, my brief span of consciousness, tells me I did, not the silent thunder of the infinite unconsciousness proper to my birth fifty-two years and 195 days ago.

Everything mocks everything else and only time is unique. Time doesn’t stand still. Time is an omnipresent hunter and in the end it always tracks us down…
Profile Image for Ilse (away until November).
475 reviews3,123 followers
September 30, 2017
She was soon ready, and they kissed tenderly in their hall way, between lift and stairs, before separating for a few minutes. “Tower”, she murmured in reply to his questioning glance, just as she used to do on those honeyed mornings in the past, when checking up on happiness. “And you?”
“A regular ziggurat”

A book that opens with a pedigree of aristocratic sounding Russian names could easily give the impression that a classic family epic will be the reader’s part. That misleading family tree is only the beginning of the games Nabokov will play with the reader. Nabokov lures the reader into to a captivating, magical dream world, abysmal and treacherous, as well as full of illusions and spiced with jokey nods and parodic takes on honorable world literature. Ada is set on Antiterra, a distorted world where Americans speak Russian and Time does not synchronize with Earth time. Van and Ada Veen – who are, according to the family tree, cousins - are bright and pretty teenagers when they throw themselves into a passionate idyll during a long languorous summer spent on the paradisiacal family estate Ardis. Soon they discover the truth that has been scrupulously buried to them: in reality they are brother and sister. Their unusual bond chances on numerous obstacles and leads to the tragic demise of their "uterine" half-sister Lucette, who is also in love with Van. Through the memoirs of the now aged Van, interlaced with Ada's comments, the baffled reader learns how their incestuous love weathers out long years of separation, infidelity, frequent brothel visits and Ada's marriage to another. Sinking into the surreal world of Ada - Nabokov’s longest - takes time, but the persistent reader is rewarded with a multi-layered, exuberant and high-flown novel. Anyone wishing further digging into and exploring all the literary and cultural references of the novel can spend many delicious hours on Adaonline, where Brian Boyd, Nabokov’s biographer, offers an elaborately annotated version of Ada.


‘Toren’, lispelde ze als antwoord op zijn vragende blik, precies zoals wanneer ze op die honingochtenden in het verleden elkaars geluk de maat namen. ‘En jij?’ ‘Een ware ziggurat’.

Een boek dat opent met een stamboom vol aristocratische Russische namen wekt de indruk dat een klassiek familie-epos je deel zal zijn. Die misleidende stamboom is tekenend voor de spelletjes die Nabokov met de lezer zal spelen: hij voert je mee naar een bevreemdende, magische droomwereld, vol illusies en gekruid met knipoogjes naar en parodieën op monumenten uit de wereldliteratuur. Ada speelt zich af op Antiterra, een vervormde wereld waar Amerikanen Russisch spreken en de Tijd niet synchroon met de aardse tijd verloopt. Van en Ada Veen – volgens de stamboom neef en nicht – zijn prille tieners als ze zich tijdens een langoureuze zomer op het paradijselijke familielandgoed Ardis in een passionele idylle storten. Al snel ontdekken ze de angstvallig verzwegen waarheid: in werkelijkheid zijn ze broer en zus. Hun ongewone band stuit op talrijke hinderpalen en leidt tot de tragische ondergang van hun ‘uteriene’ halfzus Lucette, die ook verliefd is op Van. In de memoires van de nu stokoude Van, gelardeerd met commentaar van Ada, lees je hoe hun incestueuze liefde jarenlange scheidingen, ontrouw, frequente bordeelbezoeken en het huwelijk van Ada doorstaat. Je in de surreële wereld van Ada verdiepen vergt tijd, maar wie volhoudt wacht een veelgelaagd en buitenissig boek dat garant staat voor urenlang leesplezier. Wie van literair speurwerk houdt, en zich verder in de vele betekenissen en, literaire en culturele verwijzingen van het boek wil ingraven, kan terecht op , waar je een van a tot z geannoteerde versie van Ada vindt.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
791 reviews
October 20, 2017
One of the objects that immediately comes to mind when I think back to my childhood is a red rowboat exactly like the one in my avatar. That’s no coincidence of course as the avatar started out as an attempt at a symbolic ‘self-portrait’ based on personal memories. If there is coincidence here, it lies in the fact that a red row-boat called Souvenance is a recurrent memory for Van Veen, the narrator of Ada, or Ardor. I counted at least four mentions of that red rowboat with its mobile inlay of reflective ripples, and each time, I was transported out of Nabokov’s story and into my own, and then I would find that entire pages of Ada, or Ardor were a complete blank because I was remembering a different narrative..

Paying attention was a problem throughout my reading, and for reasons other than memory triggers. In the beginning, I failed to fully engage with the characters. Ada herself irritated me quite a bit (early Ada is an impossibly pedantic twelve-year old), and whenever the narrative focused on her, I wandered off. But then, as if Nabokov knew I’d had enough of Ada, she disappeared from the narrative for a long stretch. In the last image we get of early Ada, she is standing against a tree, her shoulder blades pressed against the trunk, reminding us of a caterpillar clinging to the bark. The later Ada, very often heard through letters, is a much more interesting character, as if she’d undergone some kind of metamorphosis since we’d last seen her. I realised that the picture we had of her in the early sections was the narrator’s version, necessarily coloured by his obsessive love for her, whereas the Ada of the letters was a character speaking in her own voice for the first time.

There were many things about this book I found interesting though the reading of it wore me out. I didn't ever want to stop reading it, but I did want to move faster through the book, something I couldn’t do because Nabokov demands attention all the time like a spoilt child. You can’t skim read; if you even try, he punishes you by making you feel completely lost so that you have to go back and reread what you’ve missed. Is it any wonder that it took me six weeks to get through it - no, that can’t be right, let me check my automnally tocking calendar. Ok, it took me exactly three Oknovber weeks but they felt like six. That’s another coincidence: our varying perceptions of Time and the unreliability of memory are some of the themes in the book, and my having to go back in order to go forward is also fitting because the central twist seems to be ‘reversal’ - back to front, inside out, upside down.

An apt illustration of the reversal theme is Van's brief stint as a circus performer. Using the stage name, ‘Mascodagama', he performs stunts while walking on his hands. Nabokov underlines the significance of this episode in case we've missed it: It was the standing of a metaphor on its head not for the sake of the trick’s difficulty, but in order to perceive an ascending waterfall or a sunrise in reverse: a triumph over the ardis of time.

The word ‘ardis’ has huge significance in the novel too. We are told that it means the point of an arrow in Greek, and Nabokov chooses the word as the name of the most significant location in the novel, Ardis Hall, to which the arrow of Time in the narrative points constantly. The arbors of Ardis are an idyllic Garden of Eden in which ardorous Ada and Van are a new Adam and Eve (and a reversal again with Ada as Ada-m and Van Veen as Eve), the first children, and straight out of Finnegans Wake Baudelaire’s poem, 'L'invitation au voyage'.

Nabokov doesn’t quote Baudelaire but he recalls his poem in a parody version:
Mon enfant, ma soeur
Songe à l’epaisseur,
Du grand chêne à Tagne;
Songe à la montagne,
Songe à la douceur—

(He gives a translation of that verse in the notes at the back of the book: my child, my sister, think of the thickness of the big oak at Tagne, think of the mountain, think of the tenderness)

This veiled reference to Baudelaire occurs in the narrative just when the real Charles Baudelaire has been conflated with the real René de Chateaubriand into a fictional entomologist called Charles Chateaubriand; Nabokov's parody is itself a conflation of the Baudelaire poem with one by Chateaubriand. Later in the narrative, lines from the Chateaubriand poem, Souvenir du pays de France are recalled making a link with the parodied Baudelaire poem.

To revert to the central theme of reversal, the novel takes place on a planet called Antiterra (or Demonia) where another planet known as Terra is mentioned sometimes but as if it were only an imagined place, the equivalent of our heaven; accounts of it are found mostly in literature or in the records kept by terrapists of patients suffering from hallucinations or altered states.
In Antiterra, the United States or Estotia, seems to be governed by Russians - a nice little joke on Nabokov’s part, and in Europe, France is governed by an English king as if France became a British dominion after the battle of Waterloo. Iraq is a giant national park, another Eden.
The action of the novel takes place between 1870 and the 1960s but the Antiterra of the 1870s is a much more advanced place than our world was at that time, though scientific progress has taken a different direction entirely, with, for example, dorophones instead of telephones, which, oddly and sometimes disastrously, are dependent on the plumbing system rather than on any network of cables.

The book is full of anagrams and puns and word games - the characters even play scrabble at one point - so it is tempting to sniff out the word odour in ‘dorophone’ (Nabokov’s anagrammatic inventions don’t always have to correspond letter for letter). He is particularly playful when it comes to character’s names, especially minor characters: a coachman whose predecessor left after an incident when he farted in his mistresses’ presence, is called Fartokoff. Another character who smokes is called Tobakov. But Van himself admits to being an incorrigible joker so we soon learn to expect jokes in unexpected places. The opening lines make fun of the English translation of the famous opening lines of Anna Karenina by turning them inside out: All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike. This is only the beginning of a long list of references to famous writers, some of which are simple puns on writers' names or titles of books (as Van says, he would die with a pun on his lips), while others are mischievous satire (see the updates). But Nabokov refers to his own books in a tongue-in-cheek way too: the poet John Shade from Pale Fire is mentioned several times and Ada’s sister Lucette, a kind of permanent twelve-year old, references the character Dolores from Lolita: “I’m like Dolores —when she says she’s ‘only a picture painted on air.’”
“Never could finish that novel—much too pretentious.”
answers Van!

The narrative is mostly in the third person and is told simultaneously in several time periods: a ‘present’, this ultimate twilight when the narrative is being written by elderly Van from his bed-chair; and various time periods in his past life, slipping from one to the other with the use of asides sometimes in the first person, as the Van and Ada of the ‘present’ discuss the narrative of the past in which they are both referred to in the third person.

Van is constantly concerned with fixing the coordinates of Space and catching sight of the lining of Time, and with how duration expands and contracts depending on whether it's in the past or in the present. . The second last section is written in the style of an essay on the relationship of Time and Space, thoughts which Van rehearses in his head in the ‘now’ of a journey which has him driving forwards in Space but backwards in time towards Ada as he remembers her. But it can also be seen as him moving backwards in Space to a place he’s lived in before, but forward in time towards a new Ada transformed by Time.
This book is one giant ardis - you can turn it inside out and back to front and upside down and it will still point to Time.

Something for Proust fans:

Something for everyone:
Profile Image for Luís.
1,943 reviews608 followers
July 9, 2023
Ada or Ardor is a family chronicle.
It had written in the third person by van Veen, the hero and protagonist.
He was almost 90 years old at the time of writing this column.
Van Veen, 14, will meet staying at the Château d'Ardis, near Ladore, an incredible estate, a true childhood paradise. There, he will meet his cousins, ​​Ada and Lucette. Ada and Van are two precocious children endowed with extraordinary intelligence. They will live an intense and sensual passion that will last their entire life.
Nabokov's style is extraordinary. Indeed, the novel of the third person often switches to the I, and Ada adds comments on the sidelines of the chronicle.
The action occurs in an imaginary world, "Antiterra," a distorted reflection of the Earth; the names of places and people change humorously.
The Earth appears in the novel under the name of Terra, a little like Paradise, the existence of which certain sects believe. This Paradise is the exact reflection of the Earth. Paradise constitutes, at best, a Purgatory.
Van Veen will write a series of short stories on this subject, a book (the first of his writing career) that will not be very successful.
Also, the names of things transformed objects, each more whimsical than the others invented. Besides, the college where Van studied is called Thing.
It is also a charming love story. Ada and Van, who are brother and sister, will be separated several times for long periods, end up around their fiftieth birthday and spend the rest of their days traveling. Ada to film all kinds of butterflies and Veen to write essays and other articles, notably on the Question of Time but also of Madness.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,222 followers
March 28, 2016
“Maybe the only thing that hints at a sense of Time is rhythm; not the recurrent beats of the rhythm but the gap between two such beats, the gray gap between black beats: the Tender Interval.”

First off, I should say this is my least favourite Nabokov novel. It’s an insanely clever novel and probably needs to be read at least twice to be fully appreciated, which is another way of saying it’s hard work. The first three chapters are virtually unreadable. It felt like arriving at someone’s door who clearly has no intention of allowing you into his house or even exchanging pleasantries. Ada is a novel that made me feel stupid as often as it thrilled me. It’s a kind of pun or parody festival and while I loved all the puns I got there were so many, often multilingual or literary jokes, that went over my head that at times I felt like I was watching University Challenge and horrible holes were being revealed in my intelligence, not a very flattering feeling.

Ada is presented (playfully) as the memoir of Dr. Ivan Veen, psychologist, professor of philosophy and student of time, who chronicles his illicit life-long love for his first cousin, later to be discovered sister, Ada Veen. It takes place in a mostly imaginative though usually recognisable world. Ada mischievously incorporates into its form just about every genre of literature – fairy story, historical fiction, science fiction, erotica, alternative history, biography, autobiography, literary criticism, essays and it even ends with a tongue in cheek review of itself. It also contains references to all Nabokov’s other novels, making it a kind of uber novel.

As is always the case you often feel there’s no other writer who revels in language with the same lithe exuberance as Nabokov. There are long passages and lots of them when Nabokov reminds you what a master stylist he is and what a sheer pleasure it is to read him. If I listed all my favourite quotes this review would be about ten pages long. It’s also a fabulous antidote to the dubious and often crass or pretentious nature of sex description in literature. Nabokov never strikes an off note in his depiction of erotic pleasure and often he manages to be wildly funny to boot.

Perhaps Ada herself never quite comes alive except as male wish fulfilment?

In short, a novel I will return to when I’m older and (hopefully) wiser.
Profile Image for Karen.
139 reviews24 followers
May 20, 2008
Oh man, what can I say about this book? Just that I could probably reread Ada, and only Ada, for the rest of my life and still feel satisfied. For the most part, I read this book the way I usually read the first time around - that is, superficially, just trying to make general sense of what's going on and enjoying the sexy parts (of which there are many) - but on the few occasions that I sat down and made an effort to decipher the puns and allusions, things just started to click into place, and I was amazed by how gorgeous and rich it all was and regretted not having read more closely the entire time. I've noticed that the phrase "Faberge egg" gets tossed around a lot in reviews of this book - I've never seen one, but if looking at one of those eggs can make you think not only, "Wow, this is really detailed and technically superb and elitist," but also, "Wow, this is what it's all about," then yes, this book is like a Faberge egg.
In short, as The New York Times Book Review says on the cover of the book (please note the attribution of the quote, Josh): "A great work of art."
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
November 23, 2010
Suppose things had worked out better for Humbert Humbert. Suppose he'd gone to jail for a while but hadn't had a heart attack there, and suppose Lolita hadn't died while still a teenager, giving birth to a stillborn child. Suppose instead that they'd both survived, had various sordid adventures, and then miraculously reconnected twenty years later, at which point they suddenly realised that they had some something beautiful and unique together. And suppose that Humbert actually wrote his memoirs when he was a near-senile old man, confusing his native country of France with his adopted country of the US and cheerfully twisting all the facts to present them in as rosy a light as possible, while Lolita edits his manuscript over his shoulder with a quirky, loving aside every now and then to her darling Humbie.

You got all that? Well, the result might be a little bit like Ada, an imaginative and disquieting novel even by Nabokov standards. If you appreciated Lolita and thought, as I did, that it was essentially a very moral book, you might want to check it out. And if Lolita left you feeling angry and indignant, then stay well clear. You really won't like this one.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,730 followers
May 12, 2016
“Maybe the only thing that hints at a sense of Time is rhythm; not the recurrent beats of the rhythm but the gap between two such beats, the gray gap between black beats: the Tender Interval.”
― Vladimir Nabokov, Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle


Incest, a game the Whole Family Can Play, NOT by Milton's blind Bradley®.

Part I:

There's a whole swath of novels I purchased in my twenties but knowing the authors' genius never felt quite ready to read (ah, tomorrow). It took me years to crack open these 'Infinite Jests', these 'Recognitions' and 'Brothers Karamazovzzzzz', etc. Well, after reading 11 previous (not in time only in MY reading are some actually previous and not always prime) Nabokov novels, and never really tripped up or down by any, I was finally in the right, untight spot in my life to read 'Ada, or Ardor' and give that novel the more than titular attention Nabokov's novels all demand.

Please remember people, this novel is so much more than a book about a cousin/brother who loves his cousin/sister (there is also a 1/2 sister).

IT is a book about time, memory, love. It is a novel about the past and the present (no not the future, never the future). IT is a romance of Tolstoy, Proust AND Time.

IT is festooned with all the fantastic elements of Nabokov: his language, his structural genius, his playful doubling, his love of place and people.

Part II:

The whole novel is a giant painting where Nabokov unscrews all his en plein air oils and surrounds the canvas. He isn't satisfied with painting one side. No. The Big N wants to unwind and unroll that big-bottomed cotton canvas, stretch it, and paint front AND back.

He wants to over-paint, squirting straight from the tube. HE will garish the floor, garnish the peep-glass ceiling, garland the unsquared (ʌnˈskwɛəd & ʌnˈskjuəd) walls.

Nabokov hides brilliant stories pinned and mounted within stories.

Part III:

Reading Nabokov's great novels is like finding yourself alone in a beautiful park on a perfect day and suddenly your senses are overwhelmed by the smell, the touch, the dancing light, the flutterbytes and memory dumps of your past. Memories of...

Part IV:

It is like an emotional contrast flush. Nabokov has intravenusly warmed you instantly, philosophically, from head to foot.

Part V:

Reading never gets better than Nabokov when the Master is on fire.
Profile Image for nostalgebraist.
Author 4 books454 followers
September 25, 2015
I have trouble writing positive reviews. It's precisely when I love a book that I most strongly feel how little justice my words can do to the experience of reading it, which is how I end up writing reviews like this.

Nonetheless, Ada deserves a review. I'm not a very widely read person, and I rarely feel justified in saying that anything I've read is not read often enough. (How would I know? Maybe everyone else is just off reading other books that are even better.) But I really do believe that Ada has not yet found its readership. A lot of Nabokov fans (Martin Amis and John Updike among them) consider it the moment when their hero went off the deep end. General-lit fans who warmed to Lolita as a conventional 20th-century novel -- which, in many ways, it is -- are put off by Ada's weirdness. And people who love weird, monstrous books for being weird and monstrous don't seem, by and large, to have discovered it yet.

Ada is Nabokov's masterpiece. Sure, it's messier than his other books, and Lolita is far superior as a straight character study. But Ada is longer, richer, more complex, and -- this is the important part -- lacking in the straightforwardness that harms his other books. I know "straightforwardness" isn't a word that most people immediately associate with Nabokov, and certainly I don't mean that every facet of his other work is straightforward. But he does tend to give away his gimmicks, if not the details surrounding them, very early on. We learn that Humbert Humbert is both a brilliant writer and a pedophile on page 1 of Lolita. Someone calls Charles Kinbote "insane" in Pale Fire's Introduction. As well-executed as these books are, that execution consists mostly in following through on a premise already understood by the reader, and as I result, it's easy to finish them in an odd superposition of "wow!" and "that was it?" He's the trickiest of writers in the details, but in the big picture, you always get what you were sold.

. . . Except in Ada, where it's not clear even in retrospect what the gimmick is. It's the memoir of a fictional aristocrat named Ivan ("Van") Veen. He lives on an earth-like planet called Antiterra, in which the United States is filled with Russian speakers, electricity is banned, and telephones are replaced by hydrodynamic devices called "dorophones." Or he lives on our earth and has invented Antiterra (to escape from his real life? as a metaphor for it?). He is writing his memoirs, as an old man, in collaboration with his long-time lover Ada, who he met as a teenager, and who happens to be his sister. Or he invented her and lives alone. Or he didn't invent her, but invented the happily-ever-after conclusion to their romance. Or they aren't really brother and sister. He depicts his teenage love affair with Ada as idyllic, even Edenic. But another name for Antiterra is Demonia, and Ada means "of hell" in Russian.

Van's memoir is coming apart at the seams; everywhere you look in the novel you find eerie inconsistencies, enigmatic remarks, passages that seem to protest too much, judgments of events different from those any sane reader would make. Van is not crudely deluded about the facts the way some Nabokov characters are. But there is clearly something very wrong with him, and the nature of that wrongness -- a nature always tantalizingly just out of reach -- haunts the reader throughout the course of the book. Wherever I go in the world, I know that this book will be sitting in libraries sticking its tongue out at me. It is the most consistently baffling novel I have ever read.

Van is clearly meant to be a good writer, and he is, but in a very different way from, say, Humbert. This is not the careful, refined, charming, slightly sterile Nabokov. This is a Nabokov who knows he's getting old and has decided to go out with a bang. The writing bursts with obscure words, bilingual and trilingual puns, untranslated French, anagrams, and much, much more. Reading it feels like peeling off the husk of the English language and lapping up the cream filling inside. It is maximalist where so much of Nabokov is minimalist. There are parts written in stage dialogue, in code, in the form of advertising blurbs. There are references to, and parodies of, numerous works of art and literature. There are long stretches that seem like what a 19th-century novel would be if you put the sex back in. There is so much pure linguistic/literary entertainment there that the reader is drawn into Van's world despite their misgivings, only to be assaulted by the fundamental wrongness, in every sense, of Van's narrative. It is extraordinarily fun to read, and yet it also feels as though it has come from the other side of the looking-glass, and as though it may have been meant to stay there.

Read Ada. It's a difficult book, especially in the first 100 pages. It is Nabokov 301 -- the advanced class -- and you will have to get used to the idea that the author expects you to know three languages, catch references to bad translation of Pushkin, and extract crucial plot points from exchanges like this (in the very first chapter):

"I deduce," said the boy, "three main facts: that not yet married Marina and her married sister hibernated in my lieu de naissance; that Marina had her own Dr. Krolik, pour ainsi dire; and that the orchids came from Demon who preferred to stay by the sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother."

"I can add," said the girl, "that the petal belongs to the common Butterfly Orchis; that my mother was even crazier than her sister; and that the paper flower so cavalierly dismissed is a perfectly recognizable reproduction of an early-spring sanicle that I saw in profusion on hills in coastal California last February. Dr. Krolik, our local naturalist, to whom you, Van, have referred, as Jane Austen might have phrased it, for the sake of rapid narrative information (you recall Brown, don't you, Smith?), has determined the example I brought back from Sacramento to Ardis, as the Bear-Foot, B,E,A,R, my love, not my foot or yours, or the Stabian flower girl's -- an allusion, which your father, who, according to Blanche, is also mine, would understand like this" (American finger-snap). "You will be grateful," she continued, embracing him, "for my not mentioning its scientific name. Incidentally the other foot -- the
Pied de Lion from that poor little Christmas larch, is by the same hand -- possibly belonging to a very sick Chinese boy who came all the way from Barkley College."

"Good for you, Pompeianella (whom you saw scattering her flowers in one of Uncle Dan's picture books, but whom I admired last summer in a Naples museum). Now don't you think we should resume our shorts and shirts and go down, and bury or burn this album at once, girl. Right?

"Right," answered Ada. "Destroy and forget. But we still
have an hour before tea."

(The plot point here, by the way, is that the characters are full siblings.)

But the book can be enjoyed even where it is not comprehended. And it is an enjoyable book -- a marvelous, disturbing, memorable, remarkable aberration of a book that is, as far as I can tell, like no other on (this) earth.
Profile Image for J.G. Keely.
546 reviews10.2k followers
February 14, 2017
I came to a strange realization while reading this book: that practically every instance I can think of where an author used an unreliable narrator, it's always the same character: he's an intelligent, introspective guy with a slight cynical mean streak, a man with a fairly high opinion of himself (which is constantly reaffirmed by the world around him)--he succeeds without trying too hard, usually in a number of fields, though the success never lasts (because where would the plot go if it did?), he gets into fights and scraps due to his pride, yet always wins out in the end--and of course his life is full of a succession of lovely women who flit in and out, flirting, desiring him, ultimately discarded.

It's such an overt, laughably transparent fantasy of the life of a writer that it's simply not possible to take it seriously--which means of course that no serious author would condescend to write something so blatantly adolescent. But, if you take that concept as the base of your story, and then place a veneer of deniability over it, then you can suddenly claim complexity and depth without actually having to write a more unique and intriguing protagonist--you can have your cake, and eat it too.

And yet, I don't quite buy the excuse--it's too convenient to simply say that anything in the book that is stupid or insulting should be taken as sarcasm, while all the good parts were on purpose. It can work in a book like Flashman , where the character is so obviously execrable, and the story so obviously a farce--but the more subtle it becomes, the more it is mixed with realism and genuine sympathy, the more character thoughts and motivations become vague, the less pointed it is.

Just as with satire, in order to capture the unreliable narrator properly, you have to do the hard work of separating the object from the subject it is mocking or commenting on, otherwise, all you have done is recreated the subject, nearly whole--creating a supposed satire that is hardly distinguishable from the original. Just because an author did something on purpose is not an excuse--they still have to do it well.

I've known compulsive liars and they simply aren't that interesting. Their lies are petty, and a bit sad. Their ideas of what will impress are always lacking, and remarkably telling. They are trying to fill a certain void in themselves, and the more they speak, the more conspicuous that void becomes.

In this way an honest person ironically ends up being more strange and mysterious to us than a liar--because the liar is always speaking circles around their insecurities and fears, and so by their speech you come to know precisely what it is that haunts them. But an honest man does not reveal himself in this way, his plain speech does not reveal by ellipsis the shape and depth of his weaknesses.

Compulsive lies become absurd, they contradict one another, they place vital importance on the most vapid and pointless details. But in writing a book, very few authors are willing to write something that is not clever, that is not engaging and witty--and so they end up with these unreliable narrators whose lies are witty and attractive and engaging. This is why such narrators rarely work: they fail to get at the deep insecurity that necessitates the lie, the foolish hamartia of trying to lie to one's self.

The genuine egomaniac doesn't lie, because he believes himself to be interesting already. That is his delusion, and so he would see no reason to lie. Perhaps this is why authors have such a hard time with such characters, because to be an author means being unsure and self-loathing (at least, the kind of author who writes avant garde fiction)--why else go to such great lengths to prove one's self through clever words?

So they create these 'perfect liars', who tell extravagant, desirable lies to pointlessly cover up their extravagant, desirable lives. But without genuine feeling, real sadness and dread at the heart of it, there's nothing substantial to tie the lies to. There is no heart to reveal, just a great deal of clever flash: a gilt box lacking anything worthy to be held within it.

And it's not just the main character, Van, who feels like an escapist ideal of the intelligentsia, it's the whole structure--one that should be recognizable to any fan of Wes Anderson movies. It's all so aspirational, yet carefully calibrated so as not to trigger simple jealousy from the moderately sophisticated reader, who feels insulted at being openly pandered to, but will take all the slightly-obscured pandering he can get.

So, we have the wealthy family of good blood--but of course, they've fallen on hard times, they're a bit out of favor, a bit worn down. Money is never really a problem, but neither is their wealth outrageous. The children are all brilliant and charming, well-dressed and good-looking, knowledgeable and full of clever banter. They're good at everything, but they never really pursue any of it (like good idle aristos), and so just have the occasional success, here or there--the sort of thing the average literary person would kill for: a successful book, a following, an appointment to a major academic post--but these are always downplayed by the characters as not really important to them, not really as great as you'd imagine them to be. And of course they have oodles of free time to waste in little projects, or bits of melodrama--can't be rushed, darling.

All these pretty people who are just fucked up enough to avoid being totally perfect--though even their flaws are desirable, the sorts of things romanticized in Victorian poetry: they don’t fit in, they are biting and cruel, they are careless, they take too many risks, they're prideful--any ostensibly negative trait that falls neatly under the auspices of being ‘cool’, and doesn't really end up being problematic. It's just so fucking precious I can hardly stand it.

The whole section about Van's supposedly transformative theory of time was just so dull and long-winded. Some authors are able to present a fascinating philosophical or scientific digression in their works, but the long pages outlining Van’s thoughts didn’t feel profound or intriguing, they didn’t confront assumptions, they just seemed vague and half-cooked. The whole final section, about how great the book is and how Van’s thoughts on time changed everything felt entirely contrived. Clearly, this is Nabokov, so we’re supposed to assume that it’s ironic and tongue-in-cheek, but I simply don't see how that reading makes it any more interesting.

The fantastical elements were a fun twist, but used too sparingly--they weren’t pervasive as in a work of Borges, or Gogol, or Conrad and Ford’s mostly forgotten The Inheritors . I find such experiments are most effective when they are allowed to change the very texture of the book, to rush through it and alter its meaning and interpretation, as in Harrison’s Viriconium . Here, they ended up feeling too much like interludes, not really integrating with the downright quotidian everyday of the very light plot.

The plot really doesn’t move, aside from a few more frantic chapters, such as the picaresque series of failed duels a la Dumas père--indeed, even the inner lives of the character remain mostly static, so that they are the same people at the end, in their nineties, as they were in the beginning, in their young teens. Of course, this is all meant to relate to the ‘illusion of time’ as Van explores it, but since the theory itself isn't particularly interesting, it doesn't do much to improve the experience of watching a few unchanging people pass through rather everyday events. Indeed, they don’t even same to be creating the sort of false melodrama that we all make of our lives, making coherent stories out of unconnected events and coincidences.

The unreliable narrator shtick also means that we we don’t really get Ada’s side of the romance. We’re constantly being given all the little things Van finds attractive, what excites him about her, physically, but we don’t get to see any of her attraction, how it progresses, what she sees in him, what excites her. It all becomes rather blandly male-gaze, where the charms of the woman are described over and over, yet the man’s physical presence is largely ignored. I mean, we do get Ada's voice peeking through, here and there in notes, but it's never quite enough to tear through Van's veil and let the reader inside some deeper story. Plus there’s the fact that Nabokov had already tackled that dynamic with greater ironic force in Lolita, so it’s rather unfortunate that a supposedly transgressive author like Nabokov would just end up revisiting the same territory over again.

Then there's the prose itself--the first thirty pages are famously overstylized--with the wit jangling and clanking along so conspicuously that it doesn’t leave much room for subtlety or naturalism, for genuine emotion and connection. It’s all such an obviously indulgent performance, like that of a precocious child who must be interrupted: ‘Yes yes, you’re very clever--now was there something you wanted to tell me?’.

After the initial bombast, it settles down and the style almost completely changes for the rest of the book. The change is jarring, and didn't seem to have any purpose, or reason behind it--though it's not as if Nabokov lays off the wordplay at that point, it just settles out a bit. Indeed, it started to make me tired of puns--which is odd, since I’ve been a longtime proponent. It began to feel like too much work for too little payoff, that puns simply work better in conversation than in books, because a book is so carefully crafted, one can afford to take one's time and perfect it, polish it up--while a rough pun's strength is in its suddenness, its extemporaneous quality. But then, with Nabokov, the sheer amount of work seems to be the point: that all the glitter and movement on the surface is worth all the trouble it takes, that we’re not meant to appreciate the joke itself, or the punchline, but all the circuitous labor the author went to to set it up in the first place.

I began to feel a funny parallel between Nabokov’s style and the chapter about the fellow who cheats at cards with mirrors, surrounding himself with all of these ostentatious, flashy bits that he’s constantly tweaking and nudging to get them to work--and we’re supposed to think of him as pitiful, watching as he’s easily dispatched by the ‘true’ sharpery of Van, who instead manipulates the cards without it ever being obvious, due to his sheer mastery (well, until he’s unable to hold it in and flashes one from his sleeve at the end)--yet one begins to think that if Nabokov were at the table, he wouldn't be able to resist flashing his sleeve every hand, and thereby ruining the effect from the outset.

And such a style can work for a farce, because it is so overblown, and the characters and plot aren't really central, but act as set pieces for absurd situations and wry commentary on the nature of life. It can also be effective in works like Sartor Resartus , or Moby Dick , or Gormenghast , where the language is inextricable from the characters, where an almost overbearing style is used as a tool to delve deeply into their minds, their point of view, to force the reader into the thoughts and senses of a person that is completely different, a world with colors and textures and relationships that pierce through its very fabric, through the land itself, the characters' flesh and hearts and minds, then drag the reader back through that hole on the baited hook.

But Nabokov's voice is not pervasive enough, it spends its time flitting along the surface, and so fails to enmesh wholly with his world and characters. It begins to feel more like a compulsion for wordplay than a deliberate construction--a love of words just spilling out onto the page because Nabokov is fascinated with language. The fact that the book spends a chunk of time discussing how to play Scrabble should tell you all you need to know. After all, he was a man who grew up a multilinguist, suspended between various languages and dialects and forms of communication--who wrote the English version of Lolita himself.

Of course, it should be noted that my own skills in languages outside of English are fairly pathetic--my years of Italian and Latin were some time ago, and so I unquestionably missed innumerable little asides and jokes. Yet, the jokes I did get, even the more obscure ones (like a veiled reference to an old name for Tasmania which I only got because I happened to reference in my book) weren't especially amusing to begin with--and so it simply didn't seem worth the time to go through and decode the rest of it--just another case of more time spent for insufficient reward.

And yet conceptually, it has its strengths--it is an interesting and unusual book, clearly a case of an author throwing himself into a wild experiment, which certainly takes courage, and if he didn't always succeed, at least he was always moving, always probing and doing something. It wasn't an insulting work, it wasn't simplistic or flat, and that was what kept me reading through to the end, that even if I don't think all the pieces quite came together to make it work, it was something curious, something worth experiencing and rolling around in my mind.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,358 reviews793 followers
September 17, 2014
Remembrance, like Rembrandt, is dark but festive.
If Nabokov is anything, he's clever. Unfortunately for Nabokov, clever is as clever does is rarely good enough in my case, so that lack of fifth star is a team effort on both our parts. Fortunately for Nabakov, so are the remaining four stars, making this review a pleased one despite all my grumbling.

As stated in the summary, the book encompasses fairy tale, epic, thoughts on time, parody of novel, and erotica. The first and second were of medium intrigue and the fifth rapidly grew old due to the reader's personal preferences, leaving said reader to relish the pieces and parcels of the third and fourth that were registered to a pleasing extent.
In full, deliberate consciousness, at the moment of the hooded click, he bunched the recent past with the imminent future and thought to himself that this would remain an objective perception of the real present and that he must remember the flavor, the flash, the flesh of the present (as he, indeed, remembered it a half dozen years later - and now, in the second half of the next century).
But here we run into more misfortune, for if you're going to parody names such as Mann and Proust, you have to measure up to the point of the reader preferring the imitation to the original. For this reader, it was close, but no cigar. As for the meditations on time, they dabbled and dipped and came up with some rather intricate insight, but for one whose reading history includes Borges, the meanderings ultimately paled in comparison.

Alright, enough with the lackluster comparisons. For amidst this multifarious reception of puzzle pieces we have the ever present Nabokov, crowd-pleaser in the turn of phrase sense extraordinare. Other reviews have gone on about the linguistic tricks, so I will leave that to far more capable and interested hands than mine. For while I do like my well-crafted sentences, indeed to the point of having maintained a collection for several years, I am not enamored with deconstructing the whys and wherefores (redundant but rhythmic which concerns us now does it not?). I caught the alliteration, but the rest of the classifications went over my head. Those who are keener on that sort of thing than I, however, are in for a treat.

In the end, I wasn't bowled over enough to ignore the predecessors of yore. But I can assure you, the sum is far more than the incest of its parts.
"If I could write," mused Demon, "I would describe, in too many words no doubt, how passionately, how incandescently, how incestuously—c'est le mot—art and science meet in an insect, in a thrush, in a thistle of that ducal bosquet."
Profile Image for Geoff.
444 reviews1,233 followers
May 5, 2009
Stylistically and structurally, Ada is undoubtedly a masterpiece. Isn't that the joy of reading Nabokov anyway, the joy of watching a master at work? The seeming ease of his complicated prose, the assimilation of polyglot, portmonteau words, annagrammitic tricks, haute vocabulary, allusion, and labyrinthine sentences, is really a wonder. The first 200 or so pages of this book are absolutely hypnotizing. Ada is a parody of the modern novel, from Anna Karenina to Lolita, and its most obvious precedent is Joyce's Ulysses (but it is informed by texts as old as the Arabian Nights). Both Ulysses and Ada are episodic and epic, they both move in Aristotle's "epic time" as well as within the "perceived time" unfolding in each episode (time is really the fourth main character of this book, along with Van and Lucette, time and memory are as everpresent as Ada's dark eyes), and they both deal with how perception is registered as it passes and becomes reflections and refractions within consciousness. The structure of both novels reflect their subject matter (in the case of Ada, the five chronological parts of the book are each about half the length of the part preceding, much like our perception of time "speeding up" as we age, until it coalesces into just a few lingering, single, momentary impressions). It is a parody of romantic love stories, a parody of the erotic novel (and there is much grand eros in this book, the incidents of the children's copulation reaching upwards of double digits in a single day), and a parody of Nabokov's literary career (characters from his previous works appear or are "reworked", and Ada herself is obviously based on his most famous nymphet, also the structure is something reminiscent of The Gift). It is also a parody of scientific texts, texts that try to explain such capacious themes as time, memory, and perception "definitively", in supposed, and unachievable, "objective terms". Van Veen's "The Texture of Time" may come off as a messy rant, but it does speak to the way that human beings naturally perceive the passing days more than any scientific trope can hope to.

One of the more interesting aspects of the book is the almost secondary way that it invokes science fiction. You realize from very early on (I had to read the first three chapters a number of times each to gain a reference point on this particular reality) that this love story is unfolding on an alterior Earth, not Terra, but Anti-Terra, not Gaia but Demonia. Demonia is informed by our Earth (or the inverse could be true), there are similar nationalities, similar histories and wars, similar languages, but the continents did not split at the same fissures, Russia and America are continentally connected (anyone want to start invoking authorial biographical references at this point? I do not) and famous figures exist, but at anachronistic points, or with annagrammatically altered names. Demonians read Joyce and Rimbaud in the 1860's, the Crimean War is an ongoing world affair, and Russia and America never felt the cultural schisms of the twentieth century. Yet our Earth does play a role, Terra is dreamed of by philosophers and madmen, equivalent to our concepts of Heaven or Nirvana. Zealous religous and revolutionary groups are formed and technology is occasionally banned and destroyed in the name of this most likely fictional paradise, but all of this is background, all of this is canvas on which Van and Ada's lifelong story is painted. But it does invoke the novel as a particular entity. Like Anti-Terra, a creative work is a world unto its own, informed and in some ways defined by our reality, but only inhabiting, and only true to, its own physical structure, its own content, its own and only reality. Demonia is the world of literature. Its heroes have literary precedents, its actions are taken from multiple ur-texts, and in the end this is a novel about novels as much as it is about time or love or Vaniada.

The problem is that while the prose is masterful, ecstatic, motley, and sardonic, the characters themselves are surprisingly monochromatic. Ada almost feels like a virtuoso performance by Nabokov rather than a story invested by its characters. I suppose it could just be a trait specific to Demonians that they are only motivated by intellectual obsessions and monstrous libidos, but it does matter, when a reader is asked to feel something like empathy with the lovers toward the end of the novel, that this reader could not really conjure any. The novel is impressive in its conception and artfulness, but its emotional world is distancing. It is a great labyrinth by a great constucter of labyrinths, but a rounded character is a rounded character, in this world or the next, and I was left wanting that.
Profile Image for Warwick.
842 reviews14.6k followers
July 4, 2013
Ada or Ardor is Nabokov's biggest novel, and in many ways a summation of his linguistic dexterity as well as his literary themes, with all the pleasures and problems those things imply.

His writing is a constant astonishment. His admirers are sometimes surprised to remember that it's not to everyone's tastes. Nabokov's sentences are exact, yet often long and complicated; they are utterly stripped of cliché; they are very alert to such pleasures as assonance, alliteration, sesquipedalianism and cross-linguistic puns. At their best they provide a sensuous delight which matches the subject-matter; at other times they offer descriptions which seem so unfamiliar, because so new, that a reader feels almost rebuffed (Clive James, discussing Nabokov's over-aversion to familiar phrasing, wrote brilliantly that ‘passages occur in which we can hardly see for the clarity’).

In Ada or Ardor, most passages are poised somewhere between those two extremes, collapsing either into beauty or awkwardness depending on your mood, or the time of day. On sunset over a lake:

The wide lovely lake lay in dreamy serenity, fretted with green undulations, ruffed with blue, patched with glades of lucid smoothness between the ackers…

On playing Scrabble:

The bloom streaking Ada's arm, the pale blue of the veins in its hollow, the charred-wood odor of her hair shining brownly next to the lampshade's parchment (a translucent lakescape with Japanese dragons), scored infinitely more points than those tensed fingers bunched on the pencil stub could ever add up in the past, present or future.

On an erection:

The tall clock struck an anonymous quarter, and Ada was presently watching, cheek on fist, the impressive, though oddly morose, stirrings, steady clockwise launch, and ponderous upswing of virile revival.

One of his favourite tools is the long sentence, laden with subordinate clauses, which looks rambling but which is actually very precise in its descriptions, and frequently very perceptive in what it chooses to describe. The technique is rather Proustian, albeit employed in the service of a very different tone. Here he is on Ada's habit of scratching her mosquito bites:

The girl's pale skin, so excitingly delicate to Van's eye, so vulnerable to the beast's needle, was, nevertheless, as strong as a stretch of Samarkand satin and withstood all self-flaying attempts whenever Ada, her dark eyes veiled as in the erotic trances Van had already begun to witness during their immoderate kissing, her lips parted, her large teeth lacquered with saliva, scraped with her five fingers the pink mounds caused by the rare insect's bite – for it is a rather rare and interesting mosquito (described – not quite simultaneously – by two angry old men – the second was Braun, the Philadelphian dipterist, a much better one than the Boston professor), and rare and rapturous was the sight of my beloved trying to quench the lust of her precious skin, leaving at first pearly, then ruby, stripes along her enchanting leg and briefly attaining a drugged beatitude into which, as into a vacuum, the ferocity of the itch would rush with renewed strength.

Heady stuff. You see in that passage also this book's propensity to slip from third-person to first-person narration: ‘Van’ and the narrator who says ‘my’ are one and the same – well, more or less. The authorship is confused and overlayed with multiple fictional ‘editors’; and the setting is likewise confused, being a kind of alternate-reality version of our own world, which is superficially similar but whose history and geography differ in certain ways. None of it matters all that much – all Nabokov really cares about, one feels, is that you get a shiver of aesthetic pleasure up your spine when you read his words in the order he uses them.

Given that his writing is such a sensuous thing, it's natural that it comes into its own when he shifts to the erotic mode. The long, dreamy, pastoral scenes of Ardis, the manor where Van falls in love with the titular Ada, are full of hot afternoons, idyllic playfulness, the lazy sexiness of remembered summers. Nabokov can be a very sexy writer – a disconcerting fact when, after a particularly affecting paragraph, you remind yourself that the girl in question is 12 years old, the boy 14, and that they are siblings. I don't know if it is a testament to Nabokov's writing that he still makes this seem somehow sexy, or if it something we should be worried about. Personally I think, given the rest of his work, it is not unfair to conclude that Nabokov's obsession with young girls is something more alarming and disturbing than just a literary conceit.

This isn't the place to get into that, though. Ada or Ardor throws up some problems and challenges, but if you're the kind of reader who likes revelling in Nabokov's particular brand of liquid prose, this book is likely to be a whole ocean of pleasure.
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
874 reviews2,267 followers
January 14, 2022

Anti-terra-ist Science Fiction

Conceptually, at least, "Ada" bears many of the hallmarks of a science fiction or fantasy novel.

There are two worlds in the novel. One is Terra (which is analogous to our planet Earth). The other is Antiterra (aka Demonia), which is a version of our Earth, that Nabokov has adjusted, in order to suit his aesthetic purposes. It seems that, at least from the middle of the eighteenth century, Antiterra has changed more and more away from Terra (or our Earth).

This device allows Nabokov to conceive, imagine and write about personal and social behavior that would potentially be aberrant on Terra (or our Earth), but is either normal or condoned on Antiterra.

Terran norms and standards no longer apply. On Antiterra, "Terra [is] a myth, and all art a game."

The Aesthetics of Incest

Because this behavior (in the sexual sphere) involves incest (between minors, to start off with), Nabokov is able to maintain that it takes place only in/on Antiterra, not in/on Terra (our Earth). Thus, it occurs only in the imagination of the author, and the reader is excused or forgiven for reading and imagining it, in turn, as we must, on our Earth.

Theoretically, this allows the reader to embrace and enjoy the writing (including writing about incest) as if it were free from any social censure. Nabokov doesn't seem to be interested in assessing the relative validity of moral judgments, hence he has invented Antiterra purely so that he can write freely, and we can read freely, from an aesthetic point of view (i.e., without [moral] guilt or sensitivity).

This strategy is analogous to the game Nabokov played in "Lolita", in which he cast the reader in the role of a member of a jury, who had a legitimate interest in hearing (or reading) what would (and was) otherwise regarded as obscene, pornographic or just a "dirty book".

Nabokov's one overriding argument seems to be that art, and the realm of the imagination (at least a work of the imagination), should be allowed to prevail over morality, the law and "reality" (as we collectively perceive and define it).

Nabokov's Verbal Circus (Playing with Words)

Similarly, the adjustments that Nabokov makes to our world are comparable to the rearrangements that he makes with words when he creates an anagram out of their letters (e.g., Vivian Darkbloom = Vladimir Nabokov; scient = incest). He substitutes for one word (or one world), another word (or world) that is different, but looks familiar (i.e., it is, and must be, a word in use in our language, at least to play Scrabble or Flavita).

Thus, wordplay, yet again, is at the heart of what Nabokov achieves in "Ada". As was the case in "Pale Fire", there's a re-Zemblance between the world of language and the imagination (which consists of real words)(on the one hand), and the real world (on the other).

The Geography of Antiterra

Antiterra is dominated by a single land mass, which is a combination of Russia, North and South America (to the west), Africa (to the south), and Tartary (to the south and east). Russia seems to have joined America across the Arctic Circle. The combined space is occasionally referred to as Russamerica, although on the second last page of the novel, it's said that the principal part of the chronicle is "staged in a dream-bright America". Much of America has been settled by the ambitious Russian aristocracy and their serfs and servants.

New York City is known as Manhattan. Paris is called Lute. Van studies at Riverlane School and then Chose, which is the equivalent of Cambridge University (where Nabokov himself studied). The Veen family lives in Mayne (i.e., the Antiterran version of Maine).

The Vanada Connection

Nabokov describes this novel as both a "family chronicle" and, for Van if not also Ada, a "sentimental education", both accepted literary terms.

The ancestral motto of the family is, "As healthy a Veen as father has been."

But, within the first three chapters, it turns out that this is neither a normal family nor a conventional education.

Two brothers, Demon and Dan Veen, have married the twin sisters, Aqua and Marina Durmanov.

Aqua and Marina fall pregnant at the same time, although it's not clear whether it was widely known that Marina was pregnant. Aqua has been suffering from a mental illness for some time, and suffers a miscarriage. It turns out that Demon had been having an affair with Marina, and that he is the father of her child (Van). Demon and Marina decide to give their child to Aqua, so that she doesn't know that she has lost a child. (Aqua dies when Van is about 13.)

Marina subsequently has two daughters, Ada and Lucette (1), who Van initially believes are his first cousins, but later it's revealed to all that they are, in fact, at least half-siblings (Ada is probably Van's full sister).

Van and Ada first meet and fall in love, during the 1884 summer holidays at Ardis Hall/Manor (where their mother, Marina, lives), when Van is 14 and Ada is 11 1/2.

Time's Arrow Flies Towards Consummation

Within weeks of falling in love, Van contemplates the possibility of making love to/with Ada:

"What Van experienced in those first strange days when she showed him the house - and those nooks in it where they were to make love so soon - combined elements of ravishment and exasperation. Ravishment - because of her pale, voluptuous, impermissible skin, her hair, her legs, her angular movements, her gazelle-grass odor, the sudden black stare of her wide-set eyes, the rustic nudity under her dress; exasperation - because between him, an awkward schoolboy of genius, and that precocious, affected, impenetrable child there extended a void of light and a veil of shade that no force could overcome and pierce."

Van and Ada embark on what Van calls a "kissing phase". Their first kiss actually occurs in the company of a squirrel in a tree:

"After the first contact, so light, so mute, between his soft lips and her softer skin had been established - high up in that dappled tree, with only that stray ardilla daintily leavesdropping - nothing seemed changed in one sense, all was lost in another..."

"Van would brush his lips against hers, teasing their burning bloom, back and forth, right, left, life, death, reveling in the contrast between the airy tenderness of the open idyll and the gross congestion of the hidden flesh."

"Moments of Ravenous Ardor"

Details of their first love-making ("In order to explain, tactfully, tactually, she belly-danced against him, still more or less kneeling, her long hair getting in the way...[their reciprocal positions had become rather muddled by then]") are sketchily disguised by the editorial discussions between them decades (if not 80 years) later, when Van is writing his chronicle. Ada asks Van, "Why are you doing your best to transform our poetical and unique past into a dirty farce?"

"You kissed and nibbled, and poked, and prodded, and worried me there so much and so often that my virginity was lost in the shuffle; but I do recall definitely that by midsummer the machine which our forefathers called 'sex' was working as smoothly as later..., darling."

For the want of more private alternatives, "they made love - mostly in glens and gullies...Their craving for each other grew unbearable if within a few hours it was not satisfied several times, in sun or shade, on roof or in cellar, anywhere. Despite uncommon resources of ardor, young Van could hardly keep pace with his pale little amorette (local French slang)."

The language with which this sexual activity is revealed is affectionate but erotic, without being prurient, vulgar or crude (though it's possible that the novel's Dr Lena Wien might aptly describe it as "onanistic voyeurism").

When they enquire about each other's faithfulness during their absences, Ada proclaims that "I'm physical, horribly physical..." Van confirms that, "Amorously, now, in her otherwise dolorous and irresolute adolescence, Ada was even more aggressive and responsive than in her abnormally passionate childhood."

In contrast, Van is virile, but sterile. He, presumably, presents no risk of inbreeding (which is surely one of the main reasons for the moral and legal condemnation of incest). You have to ask if Van or Ada is actually doing anything culpable.

Van seems to be incapable of resisting temptation ("he could never go without girl pleasure for more than forty-eight hours"), and frequently uses whores when they're apart (though he much prefers "a few moments of ravenous ardor in a ferny ravine", and his "strenuous Casanovanic nights", with Ada).

He longs for "the 'happy-forever' feeling at the end of never-ending fairy tales."

An orchid on the cover of the Penguin edition of "Ada" (at Nabokov's suggestion)

Years of Lost Life (and Loving)

Much like Proust, Nabokov is interested in the nature of time.

Van writes a book called "The Texture of Time", in which he debunks the idea of the passage of time, instead arguing that time is the gap or "interval between events". In the case of his romance with Ada, it represents the years of lost time between the times that they see each other and can make love (variously, nine and seventeen years).

His novel, "Ada", is a replica (or resurrection) of events that occurred in the past, at least as far as his memory or mind can reconstruct it:

"The Past, then, is a constant accumulation of images...

"It is now a generous chaos out of which the genius of total recall...can pick anything he pleases."

"Maybe the only thing that hints at a sense of Time is rhythm; not the recurrent beats of the rhythm but the gap between two such beats, the grey gap between black beats: the Tender Interval...

"The dim intervals between the dark beats have the feel of the texture of Time."

Van uses the concept of the "deliberate present" to describe the nowness of Time:

"The conscious construction of one, and the familiar current of the other give us three or four seconds that can be felt as nowness. This nowness is the only reality we know...Thus, in a quite literal sense, we may say that conscious human life lasts always only one moment, for at any moment of deliberate attention to our own flow of consciousness we cannot know if that moment will be followed by another..."

"If the Past is perceived as a storage of Time, and if the Present is the process of that perception, the future, on the other hand, is not an item of Time, has nothing to do with Time and with the dim gauze of its texture. The future is but a quack at the court of Chronos..."

Van then explains the purpose of his writing:

"My aim was to compose a kind of novella in the form of a treatise on the Texture of Time, an investigation of its veily substance, with illustrative metaphors gradually increasing, very gradually building up a logical love story, going from past to present, blossoming as a concrete story, and just as gradually reversing analogies and disintegrating again into bland abstraction."

"Into the Finished Book"

So, this is a statement of Van's (and perhaps Nabokov's) intent.

However, in the manner of much post-modernist fiction, Nabokov's novel purports to be written by Van, corrected by Ada, edited by Ronald Oranger, and annotated by Vivian Darkbloom.

While the novel is primarily concerned with Van and Ada's separate and collective memories of their past (including both their childhood and their old age), it does speculate about their future and potential death. However, consistently with Nabokov's views on the future, he says only -

"One can even surmise that if our time-racked, flat-lying couple ever intended to die they would die, as it were, into the finished book, into Eden or Hades, into the prose of the book or the poetry of its blurb."

Thus, "Ada" not only details their romance, but it constitutes, and conveys them to, their next (fictional) life, which we could call "Nirvanada".

In the end, we readers can enjoy forever "the ample and delightful chronicle" of their love-affair, their rhapsodic passion, and the "happy-forever feeling of their never-ending fairy-tale".

"Ada" is "much, much, more" than a conventional family chronicle. It's a treatise on time and love, whether or not incest is involved.


(1) Lucette is a whole other story.


Some Call This Sin
[Apologies to The Beatles]

Come on, come on now, and listen
You don't know what you've been missing,
When you see how her lips glisten,
You two'll be just cousins kissing.
Then you'll discover your cousin
Is really your sister Ada,
And you do something you mustn't,
With such furtive love and ardor.

Attic Obsession

At the start of this naughty rhyme,
We found a ladder she could climb.
I gazed up and thought I was lost,
Between her legs was darkly flossed.
Although these words might sound awkward,
Her rose bud looked like an orchid.

[In the Words of Nabokov]

Thus a tendril climber
Coils round a column,
Swathing it tighter
And tighter,
Biting into its neck
Ever sweeter,
Then dissolving strength
In deep crimson softness.

Profile Image for Summer.
59 reviews124 followers
November 20, 2007
Oh man, sometimes goodreads really weirds me out, like just now when I read all of these really well-written slams or relative-slams of this book. This book to me is so beautiful and lush and rich. I pick it up all the time and read favorite pages or phrases over again; it makes me feel full. It's romantic and strange. The tedium of parts of it just reminds me of the tedium of real-life. I fucking love the shit out of this book, y'all.
Profile Image for Hakan.
209 reviews161 followers
August 3, 2018
ada ya da arzu, lolita ve solgun ateş’ten geçtikten sonra ulaşılacak zirve. nabokov’un başyapıtlarının başyapıtı bu anlamda ve aynı zamanda nabokov okurluğunun da ustalığını şart koşuyor. ilk elli sayfa da böyle bir sınav var adeta: lolita’yı irkilerek, bir direnç oluşturarak mı okudunuz, burada kat kat fazlasıyla karşılaşacaksınız. solgun ateş’in aslında kolay okunan bir roman olduğunu düşüneceksiniz. sonrasında bitip tükensin istemeyeceğiniz ve zaten bitmeyecek, tükenmeyecek bir şölen başlayacak.

ada ya da arzu: zamana, aşka, çocukluğa, varoluşa dair bir roman. sadece bunu söylemek, nabokov’dan bunları okumak, okuyabilme düşüncesi bile büyük bir vaat değil mi zaten?

biz de zamanı düşünecek-hissedeceğiz, çocukluğumuzu hatırlayacağız, çocukluk aşkımızı, çocukluk mutluluğumuzu, gülümseyeceğiz, hüzünleneceğiz, sonra geleceğimiz, yaşlılığımız, ölümümüz düşecek aklımıza… hayır bunlar değil, en azından sadece böyle değil bu romanda. bu roman akıl almaz inceliğiyle, detaylarının çarpıcılığıyla, kendi dahil her şeyi parodiye dönüştüren alaycılığıyla, rengarenk ve çok sesli, çok dilli oluşuyla…büyülüyor diyelim ve romanın bittiği sözle bitirelim: “...ve daha neler neler…”
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews532 followers
December 28, 2017
Full of Lust 'n ... Genetic Combustion

Constructed with brilliance and complexity and including maybe Nabokov's most radiant, gorgeous writing, the novel runs from 1884 through 1967, covering such heady themes as the texture of time.

Unfortunately, this presented an even higher hurdle for my moral prejudices than Lolita, believe it or not. Perhaps, it's in the way the topic (incest) was approached.

In 1884, deadpan Van is 14 and precious lil' Ada is 12. They believe themselves to be first cousins, and at this tender age, Van introduces Ada to forbidden pleasures and they begin an all-consuming sexual affair, in which she is just as much an instigator as Van. The descriptor "all-consuming" is no overstatement. Ada is so obsessed she insists on introducing her younger sister to the taboo ecstacy.

Some time later Ada and Van learn that they are in fact brother and sister. It's too complex to explain the actuality of how they are siblings but did not know, except to say it's messy in itself. They are separated, by mutual consent and a promise of the son to the father, only to come back together time and again, particularly after their daddy's death.

In essence, this novel is a romance: morally verboten, erotic and fraught with danger, not the least of which is the possibility of a genetically combustible impregnation.
Profile Image for Anthony Vacca.
423 reviews284 followers
November 19, 2014
Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle is not my favorite Nabokov, but, yes, a Nabokov is a Nabokov, so naturally it is preternaturally well-written, is fluent in more languages than you, is better read than you, dresses better, eats better, exercises more, dates all the guys or girls you’re too nervous to talk to, never has to worry about money, is always healthier than you, can hold its liquor better than you can, all in all, is better than you—and knows it too.

Apparently Nabokov was working on two separate projects—one, a playful pisstake of Proust and James and other 19th century writers of bloated sentences; the other, his deep, deep thoughts about Time and (fuck) Space—when the great idea came to him to cram all of it together between two covers. The end result is a deliberately overlong and exhaustively minute novel about a wunderkind brother and sister and their nearly century-long incestuous affair on a parallel planet that (possibly) exists in conjunction with ours. Now I am no puritan or prude, in fact my taste in art probably reveals me as something of a pervert (an aesthetic pervert!), but even though the sentences are acrobatic about depicting acrobatic underage banging (Van and Ada Veen’s illicit behavior begins at age 15 and 12, respectively), the sentences just don't pack the fury and longing of Lolita or the madness and fetishism of Pale Fire. While those two masterpieces were all about momentum and suspense wrapped in velvet prose, Ada’s prose ponders, meanders, whistles while strolling with hands in pockets.

But, naturally, Nabokov knows this, and I begrudgingly admit that he impressively brings all the bloat together with a pretty damn legit dénouement that is part essay on memory and part metafictional extravaganza (this book is a layer cake of subtle, intoxicating frameworking). And yet, like I said before, not my favorite Nabokov. Recommended for diehard Nabokovians only, or for those readers who like their incest erotica written in ornate, erudite flushes of never-ending sentences and packed with pages and pages of contemplative chin-stroking on the nature of Time.
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,049 reviews4,117 followers
Shelved as 'sampled'
May 30, 2016
“This interminable book is written in dense, erudite, alliterative, punsome, pore-clogging prose; and every character, without exception, sounds like late Henry James.” — Martin Amis
Profile Image for Jeff Jackson.
Author 4 books478 followers
September 12, 2014
"Nabokov is an unsettling writer as well as a funny one because he is deep where he looks shallow, moving when he seems flippant." - Michael Wood, The Magician's Doubts

I've read most of Nabokov's novels and purposefully saved Ada for the end of my initial run. I'm glad I did because I needed the goodwill I'd built up to get through the first 30+ pages which are the most difficult and unappealing of his career. They're fastidiously baroque, smugly preening, and difficult to follow. Almost as if he's weeding out his readers from the jump. The style - in addition to being a parody of 18th Century Russian novels - turns out to reveal much about the narrator Van Veen and the information delivered becomes increasingly crucial to the story. But at first flush, I could understand where naysayers had dismissed my favorite writer as an overly clever bore. Of course, he turned out to be up to much, much more than the opening suggests. Mush on.

"To Read Ada is to enter a sickly and elaborate world, a sort of hell which parades as a paradise; or a genuine paradise which is so broken, threatened, haunted, gloated over that it feels like an enhancement of hell." - Michael Wood

Many reviewers on this site have marveled over the Ardis section of the book. After the previously mentioned intro chapters, it takes up the first 200 pages. Set on a bucolic estate, it chronicles the ecstatic summers of love between Ada and Van Veen, cousins and siblings. This is a lush and bravura section, meant to seduce the reader, but I wonder if it's seduced some all too completely. For its genuine beauty and kinky erotic charge, there's something amiss in this supposed paradise, lurking around the edges, continually off-key.

"That originality of literary style which constitutes the only real honesty of a writer." - Van Veen

For me, Ada really began to pay off after Ardis. The book shows the first signs of its overall design - the complex investigations into loss, time, memory, what can be retrieved through the artifices of art and what cannot. Some readers miss the gorgeous shimmer of Ardis and think Nabokov has lost the plot -- but this is the point. Ardis has become a paradise that's locked out lovers and readers both. We have to make do with substitutes that become increasingly wan and grotesque, threatening to mar the memory of the supposed idyll. The story here grows increasingly complex, forking in many directions, its ramifications stretching far beyond its narrator's words.

Recently, there have been rumors about Wes Anderson doing a multi-part miniseries of Ada for cable. The matter-of-fact incest, the intricate design, the steam-punk world, the emotion that arrives from oblique angles. It would stretch Anderson, but it could work.

The last sections of the book - time mercilessly catapulting forward - were by far the most affecting for me. I wasn't prepared for passages that are among the most haunting and heartrending in Nabokov's work. You can feel Ardis turning to dust beneath your fingertips as years advance and pages turn. The watery death of Lucette. The scene of Van and his mother in the hospital. Van's pilgrimages to hundreds of brothels, seeking in vain for another Ada. The encounter of Van and Ada as dumpy 50 year olds. The sublime ending, which serves as preface to the book and redeems the fussy opening pages. These are truly among the finest things I've read, period.

Yes, there are swaths of Ada that are difficult to embrace. The continual puns and correspondences between the Anti-Terra of the novel and our own world being the worst offenders for me. There are times when Van Veen's style annoys as well as enchants. A few plot points seem too easily contrived. But as the book rushed to its conclusion, I realized these were minor quibbles within the design of an artistically grand, morally complicated, and ultimately profound book about... more than will fit in a review. If you can set aside the time, it will repay your efforts. Ada's best sections shouldn't be rated in stars, but in constellations.
Profile Image for Emilia.
35 reviews16 followers
February 20, 2022
Dopo i primi capitoli un po' spigolosi, una volta entrati nel vivo della storia, è quasi impossibile resistere al fascino della penna di Nabokov. Come in Lolita , anche in questo caso ci troviamo di fronte a una storia disturbante e scandalosa - anzi, in questo romanzo lo scandalo raggiunge vette sicuramente più alte - eppure nemmeno una volta ho provato fastidio, nemmeno nelle scene più esplicite, questo perché Nabokov è un incantatore, attraverso la sua prosa piena di suggestioni, metafore incredibili e orpelli retorici riesce a catturare l'attenzione del lettore che, sopraffatto da tanta abilità, non può fare altro che seguire l'incantatore fino alla fine della storia.
Profile Image for Simona  Cosma.
129 reviews61 followers
March 5, 2016
O poveste scandaloasă despre oameni inteligenţi.
Van Veen şi Ada Veen, doi fraţi după tată crescuti de familii diferite, doi copii cu o inteligenţă absolut uluitoare, se îndrăgostesc unul de celălat, iar romanul urmăreşte zbuciumata lor iubire interzisă pe un interval de aproape un secol, până ce aceştia vor trece la cele veşnice.
În cele aproape 600 de pagini descoperim un veritabil poem în proză despre iubire fără limite sociale sau morale, despre căutare, regăsire şi geniu.
În mod suprinzător, în timpul lecturii devii înduioșat și îngăduitor cu odioasa relaţie incestuoasă a celor doi fraţi.
Nu ai cum să nu fii fascinat de înţelepciunea celor doi protagonişti adolescenţi (undeva se pomeneste de IQ-ul de peste 200 al Adei) şi nu ai cum să nu observi că, de-a lungul vieţilor lor, geniul fiecăruia dintre ei este împlinit și desăvârşit doar în momentele în care ei se vor afla împreună, unul lângă celălalt. Ori de câte ori viaţa îi va fi despărţit, geniul fiecăruia va regresa, se va frânge în mediocritate, urmând să se reîntregească din nou, să înflorească şi să explodeze exponenţial ori de câte ori se vor fi regăsit peste ani.
Dacă dimensiunea acestui roman nu ţi se va părea mult prea descurajantă şi vei avea răbdarea să îl duci până la capăt, probabil vei fi de acord, asa cum cred si eu, că "Ada sau ardoarea" este adevărata capodoperă a lui Nabokov, cântecul lui de lebădă, testamentul lui literar.
Şi poate te vei gândi, așa cum am gândit și eu când am întors ultima filă a acestei cărți, că "Lolita" a uzurpat, exclusiv prin notorietatea cinematografică, rolul de primadonă nabokoviană cuvenit "Adei".
Profile Image for Maila.
42 reviews42 followers
May 28, 2019
Temo che molti piccoli dettagli di questo romanzo siano sfuggiti alla mia comprensione, ciò nonostante l’ho adorato con ardore.
Credo, infatti, che questo sia uno dei libri dalla scrittura più complessa ai quali mi sia mai avvicinata. Una scrittura a dir poco magnifica (inchino a Nabokov fino a toccarmi gli stinchi con la fronte), che già avevo apprezzato fino all'innamoramento in Lolita, ma che qui viene adornata (e anche un po' appesantita, a onor del vero) con tanti orpelli che ho trovato talvolta ammirevoli, talaltra indecifrabili. Ossia, oltre ai termini a me sconosciuti riscontrati quasi ad ogni pagina (es. della prima pagina: “mescolandosi granoblasticamente”; es. della seconda pagina: “clima alcionio”; ecc. - una bella passeggiatina nei sentieri della mia ignoranza), possono trovarsi costantemente citazioni, riferimenti ironici a personaggi reali e di finzione, giochi di parole, di cui neanche la metà vengono decifrati nelle corpose note poste alla fine del volume. Molti, i più facili, li ho intuiti da sola, con la mia scarna cultura. Tantissimi altri sono rimasti per me avvolti nel mistero, anche perché non avevo intenzione di fare una ricerca su internet potenzialmente priva di risultati ogni due e tre, interrompendo il flusso della lettura più volte ad ogni pagina.
Ci sono addirittura frasi in codice da decifrare, come quelle a pagina 172. Fortunatamente poco dopo il codice ci viene spiegato e io non ho potuto resistere, ho dovuto decriptare quelle poche parole (è stato divertente).

Di cosa parla Ada o ardore? Solitamente non scelgo mai i libri da leggere in base alla trama, perché mi piace essere colta di sorpresa in tal senso. Preferisco informarmi sulle atmosfere del libro, sulla sua difficoltà o leggerezza, sui contenuti per tematiche, per capire se è qualcosa che ho voglia di leggere in quel dato momento. Ho preso questo libro soprattutto perché è Nabokov, ma anche perché mi piacevano il titolo e la copertina, lo ammetto. Sapevo solo che si trattava di una cronaca familiare, come dice anche il sottotitolo, e di una storia d’amore. Ebbene, Ada o ardore è un'ucronia e soprattutto una storia d’amore incestuosa (a Vladimir evidentemente piacciono le tematiche pruriginose, quelle che mettono in crisi la nostra morale). Immaginate il mio stupore e disorientamento quando ho letto l’incipit:

«Tutte le famiglie felici sono più o meno diverse tra loro; le famiglie infelici sono tutte più o meno uguali» dice un grande scrittore russo al principio di un famoso romanzo [...].

Il celebre incipit di Anna Karenina viene ribaltato, perché qui ci troviamo su Antiterra, un mondo dove parecchie cose sono rimaste uguali al nostro e tante altre hanno preso una piega storica differente. N., a quanto pare, ha unito due idee diverse per due libri diversi - uno di carattere fantascientifico, l'altro una trattazione sul tempo - in un unico risultato. In ogni caso l’aspetto ucronico del romanzo passa per lo più in secondo piano, mentre preponderante è la storia di Ada e del protagonista Van che si srotola nel Tempo, al quale, in un tributo proustiano e bergsoniano, viene dedicato un'intero capitolo di riflessioni filosofiche.
Erotismo (che erotismo!), poesia e sentimento si mescolano.
Il narratore, lo stesso Van a 97 anni, scrive in terza persona, ma ogni tanto se lo dimentica e scrive qualcosa in prima. Come se non bastasse, di tanto in tanto, soprattutto tra parentesi, compaiono i commenti e le note a margine della Ada ultra novantenne, la quale ad esempio dissente dalla narrazione dei fatti o elogia la scrittura del suo amato. Le intenzioni di N. vengono svelate per bocca di Van sul finire del romanzo:

«[...] Il mio fine era quello di creare una specie di novella in forma di trattato sulla Tessitura del Tempo, di un'indagine sulla sua sostanza impalpabile, con metafore illustrative sempre più fitte che edificassero molto gradualmente una storia d'amore logica, dal passato al presente, capace di fiorire come una storia concreta, e di annullare poi, sempre per gradi, ogni analogia, fino a disintegrarsi di nuovo in blanda astrazione»
«Mi chiedo,» disse Ada «mi chiedo se queste scoperte valgano di più di una manciata di vetri colorati. Noi possiamo conoscere il tempo giorno per giorno, possiamo conoscere un tempo. Non potremo mai conoscere il Tempo. I nostri sensi non sono atti alla sua percezione. È come...».

Questo capitolo finisce così, coi puntini di sospensione di Ada.

Voto: 4.5
Da assaporare con lentezza.
Profile Image for Ailsa.
167 reviews219 followers
June 19, 2017
A bit rich for my blood.
Walk away with the feeling Nabokov is a genius and I am peasant who barely skates the surface of the English language.
Will reread in 20 years when I am more erudite and sophisticated.
This reading guide was invaluable to understanding the 98% of the tri-lingual puns and obscure literary references that went completely over my head. (Does anyone actually read Chateaubriand?)
Totally inspired now to read Mansfield Park again purely for the incest.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,780 reviews1,458 followers
July 8, 2015
Before reading:
Do I dare try this? It looks hard to understand. Disturbing subject too.

On finishing:
The book is amazing. There is absolutely no question about that! Did I love all of it? No. Sometimes I was completely lost, and that just isn’t fun. I didn't understand some lines, but that is due to my own lack of knowledge, not any fault of the book. Take note - the first four chapters are pretty much incomprehensible. Don't quit too soon. No other parts are this difficult.

Do I recommend it to all? Definitely not. Am I glad I read it? Absolutely! So who might like this book? People like me.....but I don't even know myself well. So who is that? I am going to try and explain the different aspects and themes of the book.

This is in fact a book of science fiction, and surprise, surprise, I think it is great. I don’t read science fiction! This proves there is an exception to every rule I make for myself. Let me explain. It is set in an imaginary world. Our "real" world exists too, as a twin world, or at least so some think. The history of our world is cleverly, perfectly intertwined with Nabokov’s invented world, but just little bits. The story is set in Nabokov's invented world Antiterra where both Americas are united under one ruler. The languages spoken are English, French and Russian. The British Empire exists too, ruled by a King Victor, but he controls all of Europe and Africa. Electricity? No, it isn't used; instead water is the energy source! This invented world is detailed so you understand how it functions. The inventions are consistently play-on-words. No telegrams, but “hydrograms” instead. Have you noted the name of the King? Victor, what else?! Nabokov plays with his readers through the objects, words and names he invents.In this book you are constantly playing with languages. Why is that word chosen? That is the question you repeatedly ask.

I’d like to call this a book of science fiction for intellectuals. There are two central characters - Van will become a psychologist and Ada a dramatist. Both are well educated. It starts when they are 14 and 12 respectively, in 1884. That is when the story really gets going. It is a “love-at-first-sight” love affair. Immediate attraction. They are cousins, but discover quickly they are in fact brother and sister. Lucette, their half-sister, is emotionally involved too. What we are reading is Van’s memoirs written when he is a nonagenarian, so in the 1960s. Ada’s notes and an unidentified editor are involved too. No wonder you are sometimes confused! The story isn’t just about love; it is filled with scientific minutia. Literary works pepper the writing. Plants and butterflies and bugs, diseases and anatomical body parts, books and authors and philosophical ideas of our world are all here in Nabokov’s invented world too. They are beautifully displayed …..and then playfully tweaked. When you follow the lines and get lost it is quite simply because you don't know enough! The whole book is a puzzle, a mystery, but one that has no final solution. It is a game to play for a while.

Sex is the central theme of the book, be it the copulation of animals, butterflies or people, but the tone of the writing changes, shifts, bounces to fit the message. Disturbing, gorgeous, erotic, sensual, amusing. There is incest and there is love. Aging and relationships too. Time - there is a whole section on time. Surprisingly, this section is not hard to understand. This is a perfect example of how the tone flips. I cannot think of another writer this talented.

Many lines are untranslated. To see the humor and Nabokov’s cleverness you must know languages. Or let’s put it this way, the more you know the more you will enjoy. My Latin is weak. I don’t know Russian; I bet I would have understood more if I did. An understanding of French is important for this book.

The audiobok is narrated by Arthur Morey. He uses one tone for all the females, but anyway you must always listen carefully to ever single word so it doesn't matter. He reads slowly, which is essential. His French totally sucks. I cannot judge his Russian. You don't have to avoid the audiobook because of his narration.

So I have given you the themes. I have explained how Nabokov plays with words - English and French and Russian and Italian and German and Latin. The more you know the more you will understand. It is also helpful to have already read Speak, Memory. I must give this book five stars because I find it utterly amazing. It is not a book where you judge the thoughts presented, but rather a book to have fun with by exploring ideas. It is a mind-puzzle book, a book of word acrobatics.
Profile Image for Teresa.
1,492 reviews
October 31, 2016
«Ada é o livro pelo qual eu gostaria de ser lembrado depois da minha morte.»
[Vladimir Nabokov]

Por mim será lembrado como um dos livros mais difíceis que já li. Perdi-me no labirinto de referências literárias, históricas e geográficas, camufladas por jogos de palavras, anagramas (por exemplo, as Notas são de Vivian Darkbloom - que é dos poucos que consegui decifrar), nomes inventados para pessoas reais e um sem fim de frases de que não apreendi o sentido. Ah, e o capítulo quatro sobre o Tempo e o Espaço? Não entendi absolutamente nada!
Penso ser um livro que, para ser compreendido no seu todo, exige um leitor com uma cultura e inteligência "perigosamente" superiores ao normal e que se disponha a acompanhar a leitura com muito estudo, pesquisa e paciência. No entanto, (o que é muito estranho mas revelador da grandiosidade de Nabokov) apesar de eu "ter andado a apanhar bonés" em grande parte do livro, Nabokov nunca me "deixou" desistir mantendo-me sempre enfeitiçada pela história de amor entre Ada Veen e Van Veen; dois primos (filhos da mesma mãe e do mesmo pai) que se apaixonam quando ela tem doze anos e ele catorze. Sim, mais uma história (muito) "cabeluda" do Senhor Nabokov...

A contar estrelas...
+ A forma como Nabokov escreve é sublime. Ele cria beleza no que é suposto haver fealdade; ele faz-nos rir do que esperamos chorar; ele enternece-nos com o que nos deveria chocar;
- Não consegui construir a totalidade do "puzzle";
- Quase dei em doida a ler o capítulo quatro;
+Fascinaram-me as personagens de Ada e Van por refletirem o ser humano no seu lado mais selvagem (mais puro, mais verdadeiro?); são egoístas, traem(se), não se sujeitam a convenções e sentem, um pelo outro, um amor absoluto (ou apenas desejo?) que, entre encontros e desencontros, perdura por cerca de oito décadas.
+5* (Nabokov)
-1* (Charadas)
-1* (Tempo e Espaço)
+1* (Ada e Van)
= 4*
Profile Image for Paul Dembina.
436 reviews92 followers
August 26, 2020
Nabakov operates at a different level to most authors. Here we have an extraordinary amount of puns and word play (sometimes crossing languages)
I don't pretend to understand all the references but identified quite enough (with the help of the Notes provided by "Vivian Darkbloom") to make this a most satisfying read.
Profile Image for Ana.
807 reviews609 followers
May 22, 2014
I don't even know how to classify this book. Is it science-fiction? It has elements of that genre, yes. Is it fantasy? Sure, it might be, at a very subtle level. Is it magical realism? Damn it, it has traits of that one too. What is it? What? I don't know. But I feel like I've been baptized into Nabokov's style with it. It's my first book of his and I honestly can't wait to get each of his other ones and drown in them.

At certain points, especially in the beginning and in the fourth part of it, I felt like giving up. It was so hard to read, I was trudging on by sheer will power, thinking that there must be a way this proves worthy, it's Nabokov, it has to teach me something. And it did. I also had outer motivation to finish it, but at some point, it stopped being about that. I simply had to finish it. I had to find out what's happening. Of course, there were moments when I wished it was simpler, more concise, rather than flamboyant and peacockish, but with such a big author like Nabokov, you either gulf his writing down or you can't take it. I'm proud I was able to make it to the end and also that a thing that rarely happens to me came true: I wanted to immediately start again with it. I'm not a big re-reader, probably because my experience with books is limited and I still haven't reached the point of saturation, but it just happens that I badly want to take this on again.

Remember I said this might be SF or fantasy, for all I know? Well, this book's world is a place called Demonia, or sometimes Antiterra. It looks a lot like Earth and definitely gives the feeling of familiarity, but it's not the normal world we all have lived in. Just to give you a few details, the USA is composed of both Americas, North and South, and the three languages spoken there are primarily Russian, second French and third English. This gargantuan state has been discovered by... you wouldn't guess, Africans. As to what happened to our world, it's a complicated story. As much as I understood, Nabokov hints that Earth exists and that some people believe in it, almost like a cult or a religion. You don't know this from the start. The whole book resembles more of a jigsaw puzzle, obliging the reader to combine details that he found scattered throughout the entire lenght of it. At one point, some details are so absurd that you get confused as to what you previously knew about the entire setting, and you go back to check if it isn't just your imagination jesting you.

The two main characters of this story are Van and Ada, two beings destined for tragedy. They meet for the first time at Ada's house, a manor, when he is 14 and she is 12. Now, here comes the very intriguining and interesting part. As young as they are, they fall in love with each other and so begins their their tragedy. The erotic element is a frontispiece for the purest affection. As always, authentic feeling is preceeded by animalic desire, transforming the two kids into sex-driven machines and kindling a fire in their bodies as they hunger for each other. They do it all the time, anywhere, risking their reputations, careless as to what the world has to say about their affair. This passion seems a bit out of the line, when you take their age into consideration, but the incestuos relationship comes to detail them deeper than anything else. Their love takes form in the detriment of the outer world, and their lonely selves find each other with eternal gaiety. They become - and will be, for the rest of their lives, no matter what happens - inseparable in soul.

The entire book follows them through both ups and downs, separations lasting years and explosions of erotism lasting days, since they are mere kids until they become aged and frail, when their love transforms into something else, something deeper and more meaningful.

I don't know what I can spoil of it, because it's written in such an animated and theatrical way that it builds up on its past pages. As difficult as it is, reading it offers a substantial reward, when you get used with it.

I honestly didn't expect Nabokov's writing to be so labyrinthine. You can find extremely pretentious imagery depicted and all the sensorial descriptions are elongated for the pure pleasure (it so seems) of using more expressive words. His dialogue is just as entangled as his prose is. Very vivid, lively lines that make the characters stand out of the dusty shelves of memory. Whenever they argue, its acidity is obviously underlined, while when Van and Ada are alone, it quiets down to a murmur, with inebriated words of love and familiarity. It is this particularity that gives the book its infinite setting - the way each personae swims through its nature and melts withing its borders. There is no world without Van and Ada and none of the two would be themselves without the world. The whole thing is written like a memoir, but interrupted by present, future and past. Van is ninety and dying of cancer when he decides to tell the story of their love and that shows through the kind remembrance of his and Ada's young selves at play. At the same time, there is another epoch to this story, something I would like to call "infinity". Their relation is not a time-bound connection; even if it's restricted by their life span, it's not supressed by it. They resemble eternal beings, while also being pitifully human. But, after all, what is infinity to man? His life, because that is the only clock that man hears ticking.

However important their love story is for this work, it's not the only thing that defines it. Nabokov touches many, if not all, of the important themes human kind has been debating on for as long as speech existed. It requires knowledge of death, religion, love, hatred, passion, erotism, the condition of man in the Universe and his ever-lasting search for answers, as well as developments on his personal conceptions. Probably the most important theme that the writer disentagled for the reader is time. He's a very sensible author, in the way that he can transcribe his fears and feelings onto paper because of his ability to open up and imbibe with emotion. It's rather raw, unrefined, but it gives depth to the setting's atmosphere.

I am more than happy to have read this and would recommend it to anyone. As much as it spawned in me the unstoppable desire to read more of Nabokov, it can be a great incursion into the mind of a writer who is more than a classic of our era. As hard as it is, there is no point where you find it boring - it's just strenous, not placid. The writing is graphic, Nabokov's mind is sharp and the world he believed in was eloquently put on paper, so we would believe in it too.

Profile Image for Bookfreak.
176 reviews23 followers
March 29, 2017
Το πρώτο διάβασμα σε ένα τέτοιο βιβλίο μπορεί να ναι μόνο επιφανειακό και να πιάνει ένα μικρό εύρος του υλικού που βρίσκεται κρυμένο στις σελίδες του. Οι χωροχρονικές μετατοπίσεις, οι εναλλαγές των αφηγητών και οι διακειμενικές αναφορές το καθιστούν ένα μυθιστόρημα "δύσκολο" στην συνολική εποπτεία, σημείο αναφοράς όμως για αυτό που ονομάζουμε μεταμοντέρνο στη λογοτεχνία.

Πάντως αν και το κύριο θέμα του βιβλίου είναι η ερωτική σχέση των δύο πρωταγωνιστών και το πως εξελίσσεται στον χρόνο, η αίσθηση που μου άφησε ήταν εκ διαμέτρου αντίθετη του ερωτικού. Ένιωθα πολλές φορές μια αποστασιοποιήση, ένα κράτημα και ίσως και μια εργαλειοποίηση του γυναικείου φύλου.

Ας ελπίσουμε ότι η επανάγνωση θα ρίξει περισσότερο φως σε όλα.
Profile Image for Francesco.
170 reviews
November 7, 2022
Hey dico a voi lassù immortali muse delle arti imploro voi di darmi un sorso dalle acque del fiume Lete sì ch'io possa dimenticare la lettura di questa opera per poter leggere, ancora una volta, la terribile, incestuosa, depravata e romantica storia d'amore di Van e di Ada (o Ardore)

Ada batte Lolita 10 a 0
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