Admirers and detractors of Vladimir Nabokov have viewed him as an ingenious contriver of literary games, teasing and even outsmarting his readers through his self-reflexive artifice and the many codes and puzzles he devises in his fiction. Nabokov himself spoke a number of times about reality as a term that always has to be put in scare quotes. Consequently, many critics and readers have thought of him as a writer uninterested in the world outside literature. Robert Alter shows how Nabokov was passionately concerned with the real world and its complexities, from love and loss to exile, freedom, and the impact of contemporary politics on our lives.
In these illuminating and exquisitely written essays, Alter spans the breadth of Nabokov’s writings, from his memoir, lectures, and short stories to major novels such as Lolita. He demonstrates how the self-reflexivity of Nabokov’s fiction becomes a vehicle for expressing very real concerns. What emerges is a portrait of a brilliant stylist who is at once serious and playful, who cared deeply about human relationships and the burden of loss, and who was acutely sensitive to the ways political ideologies can distort human values.
Offering timeless insights into literature’s most fabulous artificer, Nabokov and the Real World makes an elegant and compelling case for Nabokov’s relevance today.
"This essay collection assesses the stakes and real-world relevance of Nabokov’s writing, from his lectures and short stories to his major novels. It’s a great read if you’re a Nabokov fan, or if you’ve ever wondered, ‘Why did this guy write Lolita?'"—Literary Hub
"These clear and dazzlingly erudite essays offer a superb introduction to the writer’s life and work."—David Herman, Jewish Chronicle
"Robert Alter’s new book Nabokov and the Real World presents a fascinating study of the works of Vladimir Nabokov. . . . Alter’s Nabokov and the Real World provides an engaging analysis of Nabokov’s robust body of work and artfully articulates how he weaves a tapestry of linguistic tools, literary devices, nuanced visual descriptions, and empirical classifications to create beautifully crafted stories that help us better to understand the complex spectrum of human existence."—Leonara Cravotta, American Spectator
"Alter is one of America’s most distinguished persons of letters. His primary task in Nabokov and the Real World is to dismantle the widely-echoed theory of critics who accuse Nabokov of playing an elaborate literary game—a set of stylistic maneuvers, mannered, overwrought and arch. Alter counters that Nabokov. . .used language to awaken readers to the dense, many-layered, multi-connected reality of which we are part."—David Luhrssen, Shepherd Express
"Nabokov and the Real World is a wonderful contribution and . . . [a] beautiful collection."—Erik Eklund, Nabokov Online Journal
"A tour de force. As Alter demonstrates Nabokov's remarkably wonderful style, the reader is dazzled by Alter's own superb style and literary erudition—a double gift for those who love literature. Nabokov and the Real World is a highly readable and masterful book."—Françoise Meltzer, author of Dark Lens: Imaging Germany, 1945
"In this nuanced appreciation of Nabokov's stories, novels, and lectures, Alter shows us a Nabokov many have missed. He brilliantly argues that the implicit moral perspective in Lolita and other great fictions is not that of the heartless artificer but of a person with deep sympathy for those who suffer."—Gary Saul Morson, coauthor of Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn from the Humanities
"Elegant and penetrating. This important and timely book offers very personal readings of Nabokov by one of the most prominent literary scholars and translators today."—Galya Diment, author of Pniniad: Vladimir Nabokov and Marc Szeftel and A Russian Jew of Bloomsbury: The Life and Times of Samuel Koteliansky
"In his sustained appreciation of the relation between consciousness and reality, Alter intricately articulates how lived experience is, and can be, realized through the textual object. Nabokov and the Real World reveals how we can experience other worlds vicariously and does so in sumptuous prose from start to finish."—Michael Rodgers, author of Nabokov and Nietzsche: Problems and Perspectives