All the most powerful emotions come from chaos – fear, anger, love – especially love. Love is chaos itself. Kirsten Miller
The novel Mary was written in 1926 by the 27-year-old Nabokov (under the pseudonym Sirin) and published in Berlin.
I know people often think that this book is the story about ‘the first love,’ but it is more complicated than that. The book is about the final break up of the emigrant with his homeland and the loss of hope.
The primary problem – life in another country (lack of money, work, goals). The descriptions and characters are based on the contrasts: the exceptional – and the ordinary, real – and false. The protagonist of the story is Ganin – smart, bored, a hubby material, dreamer. His opposition (or antagonist) is Alferov – weak, drunk, annoying, dumb. At least this is how both of them appear in front of our eyes.
The title of the novel – Mary/or Mashenka – is the name of the ‘hidden’ protagonist: we never meet grown-up married Mary, we know her only as a young girl, mostly through sweet and hazy memories of Ganin.
There’re no lovable heroes in this book. Everybody is a mess, even Clara (who is in love with Ganin) and Podtyagin (an old and dying poet). Ganin is easily bored man, especially at the moment when the ‘next’ woman is about to jump in his bed or to tell him that she is in love… “Open your legs,” says our wonderful hero to her (cute and welcoming gesture from Mister Passionate Heart Breaker). And a poor girl does just that…
The plot: describes the life of Ganin throughout one week. On Sunday, Ganin meets Alferov in the elevator of a Russian guesthouse in Berlin. At dinner, he learns that Alferov’s wife, Mashenka (or Mary), arrives on Saturday. On Tuesday, Alferov shows the photo of his lovely wife to Ganin, who recognizes his first love, which he left in Russia many years ago.
From Tuesday to Friday – four days of suffering – the author shares with us the romantic experiences (or memories) of Ganin. Of course, he dreams of taking Mashenka away from her stupid, lazy husband. But… on Saturday night, Ganin changes his mind. The thing is, the affair with Mary ended a long time ago, and yes, those days were, perhaps, the happiest time of his life, but Ganin decides to leave love “in the house of the past, in the shadows, with the dying people.” He takes another train. Far away from Berlin, Lyudmila, Clara, and Mary. Bye-bye, bitches!
That’s what happens with love. It ends. By death or separation. Erika Robuck
As usual, Nabokov plays words and symbols. First of all, the names of the heroes – all of them – have literary sources. For example, in Anton Sergeyevich Podtyagin (a poet) – Chekhov’s first name is combined with Pushkin’s patronymic; a ridiculous surname hints at his plight and insignificant role in Russian literature. Alferov – ignorant person: he never found out about the role of Ganin in the life of his wife.
Nabokov gives Ganin the poetic ability to feel the word, which often causes readers to smile. For example, how he perceives the word prostitute when he is a 13-year-old – a mixture of a princess and a woman on the street. Vermicelli is worms, small pasta, and it grows on a tree.
The next important symbol is the image of the shadow. “Seven Russian lost shadows” are people who live in a bleak émigré house. For them, life is like a movie shooting, where they are a series of pictures in the cinema.
Nabokov is very attentive to details. For example, the scented letter of the hated Lyudmila (current love), turned by Ganin to shreds and thrown out of the window, is contrasted with the old notes from Mary carefully kept at the bottom of the suitcase along with his gun.
The book is short, well-written, reminds in style Dostoevsky (Nabokov would disagree tho😂). I read it in Russian.
Not all loves are meant to last.
Some are meant to grace you briefly,
somehow leaving the impression
that the world is just a little bit better
because you had been touched by
something so beautiful it was impossible
to grasp. Jacqueline Simon Gunn
- Sharing my latest review from Literary Titan – click to read
- Kayla Ann is planning to write this summer 80k (or at least try), and I said I might try too. I’m so brave! 😂 I said I’d like to write 45k (I don’t want, but I have to… ). If anyone is up for a challenge, for example, to finish a novel or start new, here is her WordPress blog page – Kayla Ann Author
- And the last (for today), I created a page with book recommendations on my blog, because I’m planning to read at least 40 books this summer. The best reads I’ll highlight on my page. Check it out – here
Next post – A world without time