Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Review: Gooooal!

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I took a look at Vladimir Nabokov’s Glory because I knew that it had a soccer element. And why not, as the world’s population is engrossed with the World Cup. Unfortunately the soccer in the novel is ever so slight, a subtle recurring theme – a trophy here, a description of goalkeeping there. Although soccer was underused, Glory itself was an interesting, slow-moving coming-of-age story that seems really more like a John Updike book than a Vladimir Nabokov one.

Martin Edelweiss’s parents are separated, and Martin lives with his mother in pre-revolutionary Russia. His father eventually dies, and Martin and his mother are forced to flee Russia when things get tough. Martin takes a liking to the ship that he’s on (he’s on a variety of modes of transportation throughout the book). His growing up seems airy and ephemeral – from one moment he’s sailing the Mediterranean in quest for a new live, in the next he’s up at Cambridge reading Russian literature and mocking poets. He befriends Darwin, a jocular, come-what-may kind of student. He falls in love with Sonia Zilanov, a girl from a family he meets out in England. Darwin also falls in love with her. They fight. They recover, even when Sonia rejects both of their marriage proposals. For his college team, Martin stops many balls from becoming goals.

It’s kind of a lazy story, as Martin really doesn’t have any goals in life. When he gets up to Cambridge, he doesn’t know what he wants to study (which is an oddity, as it’s usually mandatory to know what one wants to read there). When he graduates, he doesn’t have any idea what he wants to be. Even when he receives a soccer trophy as a gift, he’s not sure what to do with it – he fingers the stationary ball that’s under the soccer player’s foot. Falling in love with Sonia seems to be one of the few definitive things he does in life, and yet Sonia wants nothing to do with him, other than be friends.
Otherwise it is a relatively warm story. The characters are well cared for. As Nabokov writes in his introduction to the novel, ‘Martin is the kindest, uprightest, and most touching of all my young men; and little Sonia, of the lusterless dark eyes and coarse-looking black hair . . . should be acclaimed by experts in amorous lure and lore as being the most oddly attractive of all my young girls, although obviously a moody and ruthless flirt’. Although Nabokov himself may be employing aplomb, per usual, he’s not far off. Martin is a character that you must sympathise with. He seems like a typical 20th century male protagonist, trying to find his way in life without being able to settle down. There seems to be a similarity between Martin and Updike’s Rabbit.
Plus, it’s a good time to (re-)read Nabokov, as Vintage has taken the time to allow a redesign of all the covers due to the publication of The Original of Laura last year. They’re gorgeous.

1 comment:

theliterarylollipop said…

That cover is fantastic. There seems to be a new selection of Nabokov covers that all have paper art in a frame. Totally genius.