Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov - The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

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Nabokov's First English Language Novel

May 3, 2009 (Updated May 5, 2009)
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Rated a Helpful Review

Pros:- Mysterious, difficult to put down.
- One of the 'easier' Nabokov novels.

Cons:- Takes energy and time to absorb all of the details.

The Bottom Line: A great novel, which is likely to get you hooked on Nabokov.


This was the first Nabokov novel I had ever read. It is Nabokov's first novel in English - written between 1938 and 1939 in Paris. This is probably also a good place to start in Nabokov's works, since it's more readable and less complicated and difficult than many of his other works, such as Ada and Pale Fire. However, being Nabokov, it is still somewhat difficult to read, and one must pay attention to details. Skimming through and missing out on these details would be missing out on the whole novel. Doing this novel justice means spending time absorbing and studying the text.

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight is really genre-less, but it has many aspects of a mystery novel. People who like mysteries will probably like this book. Clues unravel into whole dimensions - hard to explain, but it is epic in scope, dealing with major philsophical ideas. It's perplexing and fascinating.

The plot goes something like this: Sebastian Knight is the name of the (fictional) Russian-British author who has died, and his half-brother decides to investigate his late brother's somewhat enigmatic life. Knight's own literature is discussed in detail. The details of Knight's life slowly unravel - 'V' (his brother) retraces the steps of his brother's own story - his relationships, his novels, where he was living and what he was doing at these periods in his life - and we are left with a broad but surprising ending.

It is a fiction about fiction, about the life of an author, which is a favorite subject of Nabokov. (see "Ultima Thule", "A Forgotten Poet", and Pale Fire.) If you like Nabokov or this description, you will probably love the book.

*edit -
In response to the comment, if it wasn't clear in the review, it is not an 'easy read'. Easy and Nabokov don't really go well together. So if you're looking for a thriller will no substance, you really should skip this book altogether.
The writing style is Nabokovian...sorry if that isn't much help, but it really can't be described. I recommend reading one of the short stories previously mentioned to get a feel for it. There is a lot of wordplay and attention to small details.


Recommend this product? Yes


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