Sunday, 14 January 2018

Death and the warmth of The Gift

Chapter 2 of The Gift has some passages that mirror the passage about Yasha’s father, as quoted in my previous blog post. 
“… [Fyodor’s mother] spoke of what she had constantly returned to for almost 9 years now, repeating over again—incoherently, gloomily, ashamedly, turning her eyes away, as if confessing to something secret and terrible—that she believed more and more that Fyodor’s father was alive, that her mourning was ridiculous, that the vague news of his death had never been confirmed by anyone, that he was somewhere in Tibet, in China, in captivity, in prison, in some desperate quagmire of troubles and privations, that he was convalescing after some long, long illness—and suddenly, flinging open the door noisily, stamping on the steps, he would enter. And to an even greater degree than before these words made Fyodor feel both happier and more frightened. Accustomed willy-nilly to consider his father dead all these years, he sensed something grotesque in the possibility of his return. Was it admissible that life could perform not only miracles, but miracles necessarily deprived (otherwise they would be unbearable) of even the tiniest hint of the supernatural?” 
The inability to come to terms with a loved one’s death. 
“It happens that over a long period you are promised a great success, in which from the very start you do not believe, so dissimilar is it from the rest of fate’s offerings, and if from time to time you do think of it, then you do so as it were to indulge your fantasy—but when, at last, on a very ordinary day with a west wind blowing, the news comes—simply, instantaneously and decisively destroying any hope in it—then you are suddenly amazed to find that although you did not believe in it, you had been living with it all this time, not realizing the constant, close presence of the dream, which had long since grown fat and independent, so that now you cannot get it out of your life without making a hole in that life. Thus had Fyodor, in spite of all logic and not daring to envision its realization, lived with the familiar dream of his father’s return, a dream which had mysterious embellished his life and somehow lifted it above the level of surrounding lives, just as, when a little boy, his father used to lift him by his elbows thus enabling him to see what was interesting over a fence.” 
Grief and longing, perhaps, is what brings Fyodor and the Chernyshevski family closer together. 
The Gift is beautifully written, which is expected, especially the descriptions of nature—the morning before Fyodor visits Vasiliev’s office in chapter 1 (“a young chest-nut tree, still unable to walk alone and therefore supported by stake, suddenly came out with a flower bigger than itself”…) and the several paragraphs that open chapter 2. 
It also has warmth. It’s a novel that you can unhesitatingly, fully, comfortably embrace, that you can happily love with all your heart, unlike, I think, Lolita.* 
I’ve always lamented the unfortunate fact that Lolita overshadows everything else in Nabokov’s oeuvre—it’s the book that introduces many readers to Nabokov, but I’m afraid that it’s also the book that keeps many other readers away from him, because of its reputation. You can argue that the people who choose not to read Lolita because of its subject matter shouldn’t read it anyway, but they can enjoy his other works (Pnin! I’d say). 
The book blogger’s responsibility, in my mind, is not only to discuss books, to offer a new interpretation or point out some details that haven’t been noticed before, to “defend the books they cherish from those who would make a hash of them”, but also to talk to readers and fellow bloggers about other great books that are lesser known. I feel helpless. Facing writers like Nabokov or Melville, I’m paralysed, unable to express why they’re great. All I can do is typing and showing some bits from the book, some phrases and moments, in hopes that others would read The Gift.

*: Of course, that is not to say that Lolita is cold. 
Read these 2 posts of mine:
I expect you know what I mean about the inability to fully embrace Lolita and love it without reservations—it’s not the subject matter, but the narrator.

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