Vladimir Nabokov was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Now, 30 years after his death, his last novel is finally to be published. But should it be? On the eve of his death, fearing it was imperfect, he instructed his wife to destroy the manuscript, sparking a fierce controversy that embroiled family, friends and the literary establishment, writes Robert McCrum
Robert McCrum in The Observer,
With artful cunning, Nabokov proceeded to reveal a mystery that is only now, 33 years later, on the brink of being solved. "I must have gone through it [The Original of Laura] some 50 times," he confided, "and in my diurnal delirium kept reading it aloud to a small dream audience in a walled garden."
Who could resist such entrancing fabrications ? "My audience," Nabokov went on, "consisted of peacocks, pigeons, my long dead parents, two cypresses, several young nurses crouching around, and a family doctor so old as to be almost invisible. Perhaps because of my stumblings and fits of coughing, the story of my poor Laura had less success with my listeners than it will have, I hope, with intelligent reviewers when properly published."