Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chasing Butterflies: Nabokov

Continuing on the topic of the gritty work of process... on the cogs and wheels of grinding out drafts...on HOW one goes about writing a novel [and an ode to the usefulness of index cards]:

Vladimir Nabokov , lepidopterist, left behind an unfinished novel, The Original of Laura, when he died. It's just been published-- the fragments of it, anyway, as David Gates notes in his review today in the NYT Book Review.

The most poignant detail is Nabokov's struggle to finish the manuscript, to capture the vivid vision of the novel --like one of his treasured, rare butterflies-- and splay it on the page: “I kept reading it aloud to a small dream audience in a walled garden. My audience 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..."

This novel isn't even half-baked. Apparently, it's still clumps of dough. But fascinating to scholars and to writers who will seize the chance to muse over the raw chunks, and glimpse, perhaps, how Nabokov worked:
He would customarily 'envisage a novel in his mind complete from start to finish before writing it down' — on 3-by-5 cards, which allowed him to work on any section he wanted to, then place it 'in the sequence he had foreseen, among the stack already written.' A transcription of . . . handwritten notecards (complete with grammatical and spelling errors), [are] arranged in [this novel in] sensible, if debatable, order, but facsimiles of the cards themselves, perforated so they can be detached from the book and reordered by scholars who think they know better, or by general readers with time on their hands.

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