“Maybe the only thing that hints at a sense of Time is rhythm; not the recurrent beats of the rhythm but the gap between two such beats, the gray gap between black beats: the Tender Interval.”
First off, I should say this is my least favourite Nabokov novel. It’s an insanely clever novel and probably needs to be read at least twice to be fully appreciated, which is another way of saying it’s hard work. The first three chapters are virtually unreadable. It felt like arriving at someone’s door who clearly has no intention of allowing you into his house or even exchanging pleasantries. Ada is a novel that made me feel stupid as often as it thrilled me. It’s a kind of pun or parody festival and while I loved all the puns I got there were so many, often multilingual or literary jokes, that went over my head that at times I felt like I was watching University Challenge and horrible holes were being revealed in my intelligence, not a very flattering feeling.
Ada is presented (playfully) as the memoir of Dr. Ivan Veen, psychologist, professor of philosophy and student of time, who chronicles his illicit life-long love for his first cousin Ada Veen. It takes place in a mostly imaginative though usually recognisable world. Ada mischievously incorporates into its form just about every genre of literature – fairy story, historical fiction, science fiction, erotica, alternative history, biography, autobiography, literary criticism, essays and it even ends with a tongue in cheek review of itself. It also contains references to all Nabokov’s other novels, making it a kind of uber novel.
As is always the case you often feel there’s no other writer who revels in language with the same lithe exuberance as Nabokov. There are long passages and lots of them when Nabokov reminds you what a master stylist he is and what a sheer pleasure it is to read him. If I listed all my favourite quotes this review would be about ten pages long. It’s also a fabulous antidote to the dubious and often crass or pretentious nature of sex description in literature. Nabokov never strikes an off note in his depiction of erotic pleasure and often he manages to be wildly funny to boot.
Perhaps Ada herself never quite comes alive except as male wish fulfilment?
In short, a novel I will return to when I’m older and (hopefully) wiser.