One of the things I like most about Nabokov s novels is the structure, and this one has a particularly interesting structure.At the beginning of chapter nine which is roughly half way through the book, two new characters appear out of nowhere, two young Berliners who are trying to return home after a hard night on the town Both of them continued farther along the deserted night street, which alternately rose up smoothly to the stars and then sloped down again.That deserted night street could represent the novel itself it also rises up soberly towards the mid point and then lurches unsteadily towards the end And it s quite a drunken lurching, weaving this way and that, holding onto anything it can grab, especially any props still lying about from the first half of the book the woodprint of a child prodigy in a nightgown, the wheezy governess in the wheezy elevator, the father s typewriter, the mother s cousin, the forgotten friend from school, the family doctor, the beloved treasure buried under a tree With the help of all the props, the struggling novel finishes up in the end exactly where it left off in chapter eight just before the night street began to lurch flatter and flatter like the flattened cardboard pieces of a pocket cardboard chess set.I liked that twisted symmetry Anything else I might have been tempted to comment on, such as the plot, or the themes, or the characters, or the embedded chess game, or the autobiographical elements, were off limits because the author has commented on it all himself in the preface Nabokov tells us in very certain terms that he wants to spare the time and effort of hack reviewers So I ve taken him at his word and skipped all such sleuthing He didn t mention the parallels between the end of chapter eight and the end of the book however which fortunately left me something to say in this tenth and final Nabokov review.Thank you, Mr Nabokov, and goodnight. The Luzhin Defense, Vladimir Nabokov The Luzhin Defense is the third novel written by Vladimir Nabokov during his emigration to Berlin, published in 1930 The plot concerns the title character, Aleksandr Ivanovich Luzhin As a boy, he is considered unattractive, withdrawn, and an object of ridicule by his classmates One day, when a guest comes to his father s party, he is asked whether he knows how to play chess This encounter serves as his motivation to pick up chess He skips school and visits his aunt s house to learn the basics He quickly becomes a great player, enrolling in local competitions and rising in rank as a chess player His talent is prodigious and he attains the level of a Grandmaster in less than ten years For many years, he remains one of the top chess players in the world, but fails to become a world champion 2006 1384 334 9644310519 1393 342 20 The combination of Chess and Nabokov seemed to me a match made in heaven, a big fan of both, this was just too tempting to turn down, even though I knew it would take something pretty remarkable to reach the heights of either Pale Fire or Lolita , I still felt like reading what is one of his earlier Russian novels his third written in 1930 before he embarked on his American odyssey The Luzhin Defence is a book that does features chess, but doesn t delve too deeply into the actual playing of the game, so anyone clueless on the subject will rarely have to scratch their heads in uncertainty, it s main focus is the life of Luzhin himself, from his childhood in St Petersburg and learning the game with his Aunt, to becoming a shambling grand Grand Master who arrives in the Italian Lakes to play the Italian whizz Turati, and sets in motion events that unexpectedly had him finding the love of his life The novel opens with a sense of nostalgia, with memory misted scenes of Luzhin s boy hood in Russia and his first initiation into the game of the Gods for which he is seen to have a prodigious and natural talent Miserably alone, with little friends, and parents who both feel estranged and unemotional Luzhin s father is a writer of boy s adventure stories but seems dead than living the boy would take to chess and give him that spark that had been missing from his life The kid pushed around at school, would grow up to become a maestro His passion for chess is almost one of obsession, an awkward figure he becomes, and is completely isolated in his opaque, imaginary world of configurations where he alone is sovereign as kings and queens and pawns are in eternal motion across his private field of vision You get the impression the outside world and other people are of little significance Nabokov rushes us from the early days, and the subterfuge he has to undertake to play the game, and we find Luzhin again in a post revolutionary Europe, a ridiculous figure, his Grand Master status on the wane as other younger players get to grips with his own techniques for winning During a stay in a health spa Luzhin meets a Russian woman, herself an migr from the revolution living in Berlin, and before long want her to be his wife, all to the annoyance of her parents, who want none of it Their awkward courtship, where Luzhin asks for her hand has the air of a drowning man rather than a suitor.And his beloved game would start to suffer, leading to big cracks appearing in his sturdy mind.Reading Nabokov, any Nabokov, there is a 99% chance it s going to be worth it, this splendid novel was a delight, and even though it doesn t go all out in terms of plot or story, there are early signs here that the masterful narrative that showed up in his American novels was starting to emerge.This had some wonderful sentencing, that was simply breathtaking, a joy to behold The Luzhin Defence can also be seen as a simple biography of a dull man, similar in some ways to that of John Williams Stoner , but that conventionality only goes so far with Nabokov of course In other ways, the life story is an extended metaphor, a game of chess within itself.Nabokov is quite rightly regarded as one of the greatest writers to have graced this earth, so comparing this to most other books I have read, it would get top marks, but then I have to take into account both Pale Fire and Lolita , for me, novels just don t come much better, The Luzhin Defence simply wasn t as good, but then that s no disgrace at all A solid four stars Thanks Vlad.
If you are a chessplayer, like me, you simply have to read this book No one else has even come close to describing chess obsession from the inside The style is, needless to say, impeccable. Ah Nabokov, your words are like the warm familiar embrace of an ex lover who knows just what I like except without all the self disgust the next day. Let s start if you re willingVladimir Nabokov, The Luzhin Defense G.K Chesterton once famously quipped in his book Orthodoxy that Imagination does not breed insanity Exactly what does breed insanity is reason Poets do not go mad but chess players do Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers but creative artists very seldom Vladimir Nabokov s th rd novel about a lonely chess grandmaster reminds me of Franz Kafka and a little bit of Melville s Bartleby, the Scrivener While this isn t my favorite Nabokov it isn t Pale Fire or Lolita , it is the sweetest Most of Nabokov s characters are cold, irrational and distant Luzhin is sad, ber rational and beautiful in his madness.This novel reminds me of this Randall Munroe cartoon.History is full of mathematicians, logicians, physicists, and chess Grand Masters whose search for logical conclusions, transfinite sets, perfect stability, etc, drives them nuts Men who hold an infinite series of answers and thus an infinite possibility for despair Like Kafka once said, There is an infinite amount of hope in the universe but not for us To men like Luzhin, life and chess are such lonely battles. We find in The Luzhin Defense many of Nabokov s playful tropes madness monomania, solipsism , resistance to meaning particular jabs at the Viennese delegation , genius outcast from society It is apparent that his is an early work of the master, though a masterful work still Luzhin is a remote but somehow lovable obsessive Our affection for him has true potential, perhaps a potential unusual for the typical Nabokovian protagonist But that affection is abated by our narrative distance from Luzhin while the first person brings us closer to the monsters of Humbert and Kinbote, the third person alienates us from the awkwardly lovable Pnin and Luzhin This alienation is not unique to the reader, but a feeling felt by all who meet Luzhin he is remote, inaccessible, too odd and too genius for the world in which he lives.Ultimately, like all of Nabokov s memorable puppets, Luzhin s sanity is the vicitm of his own illusions a victimhood manifest even in his characteristic conception, as Nabokov informs us in the Foreward The Russian title of this novel is Zashchita Luzhina, which means the Luzhin defense and refers to a chess defense supposedly invented by my creature, Grandmaster Luzhin the name rhymes with illusion if pronounced thickly enough to deepen the u into ooLuzhin is at once a man totally blinded by illusion, and also a man of preternaturally clear vision His acuity and understanding in the realm of chess blinds him to the reality of his larger environment As in Despair, Nabokov parodies his own focus on detail to comedic effect focus on detail becomes dangerous myopia Luzhin feels that attachment to the real world is a source of endless fatigue, even the chessboard is a burden to him His consciousness, all of his senses, are focused so microscopically that he becomes a solemn object of ridiculeLuzhin was indeed tired Lately he had been playing too frequently and too unsystematically he was particularly fatigued by playing blind, a rather well paid performance that he willingly gave He found therein deep enjoyment one did not have to deal with visible, audible, palpable pieces whose quaint shape and wooden materiality always disturbed him and always seemed to him but the crude, mortal shell of exquisite, invisible chess forces Chess is perhaps the perfect metaphor for Nabokov s style of art precise, calculating, pure play and pure skill removed from chance Nabokov s works are ruled by his aptly named in Lolita McFate man made, authored, Fate fate which is removed from fortune When interviewed for the Paris Review, he was asked if E.M Forster s claim that Forster s character s had lives of their own, and wrote their fortunes for themselves, resonated with him, Nabokov answered characteristicallyMy knowledge of Mr Forster s works is limited to one novel, which I dislike and anyway, it was not he who fathered that trite little whimsy about characters getting out of hand it is as old as the quills, although of course one sympathizes with his people if they try to wriggle out of that trip to India or wherever he takes them My characters are galley slaves Pot shot at Passage to India aside, the closing seal on his answer is significant to understanding Nabokov s approach to art My characters are galley slaves. Slaves, like chess pieces beneath the hands of their master, ever part of a greater artwork the game Nabokov s artistry is a game, he is a parodist and a trickster That stills our emotional reaction, but invokes our appreciate for his aesthetic achievements Luzhin does not move us, and The Luzhin Defense is as much a chess defense as it is a defense against interpretation, against emotion The Luzhin Defense is a case in the particular of the Nabokov Defense a defense against meaning which he artfully employs to distance the heart, while drawing in the mind.Despite the parallels between Luzhin Defense and Zweig s Chess Story, it would be in poor taste to imagine it a parody of Zweig s post Nazi novella however the comparison is unavoidable There is a notable exchange in values when one moves from Zweig to Nabokov s takes on Chess obsessives In Zweig we encounter a man literally tortured, and chess being a mental manifestation of both escape and continued imprisonment Chess Story is a poignant, post WWII tale, with heavy laden messages against human cruelty, the double edged sword of escapism, and the pervasive loss of innocence and beauty following the Nazi rule In Luzhin Defense we are withheld meaning and given farce While Nabokov plays with us, manipulates our affections and our perceptions, his art is a cold and distant art The genius of Zweig s novella is to make chess warm to us, familiar, an obsession affliction which is at the very border of our admiration and fear The genius of Nabokov s novel is the inverse it instills on the sympathetic narrative of a man gone mad by his own monomania with the cold aloofness of a chess match. &Read ⇱ Защита Лужина ⇯ A Chilling Story Of Obsession And Madness Luzhin, A Distracted, Withdrawn Boy, Takes Up Chess As A Refuge From Everyday Life As He Rises To The Heights Of Grandmaster, The Game Of Chess Gradually Supplants The World Of Reality As He Moves Inexorably Towards Madness Over the last few weeks I ve read The Luzhin Defense, followed by Bluebeard and then Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Originally I was going to write some stuff here about the central characters and compare them with the original Outsider I was going to say things like this Maybe it is a contradiction in terms, to put 3 books about outsiders in the same review, but I can t stop myself.We have here a chess player, a doctor who might or might not have murdered a wife and a chickenhead They all share a trait lacking in the original Outsider they are all able to induce a sympathetic response from the reader I don t believe we have any capacity to understand Camus s Outsider and without that, how can we have sympathy It is easy to empathise with the others, however apart they may be from our own lives It is impossible for Camus to put us in the shoes of his Outsider It IS possible to become the crazy chess player, the murderous doctor, the mentally deficient chickenhead Indeed it is Dick s great strength that his characters slip into you no matter that they are hypothetical consequences of a hypothetical world I can t help wondering how I would have felt about Nabokov if I d read him last instead of first I thought he was getting away with being clever and ornate at the time But to read the spare prose of Frisch next made me question this And sharing with Dick the suffering of his characters meant I started wondering if Nabokov really had a clue what he was writing about He says things that hit the mark for sure and his general thesis that chess saves the hero s life until his dogooder wife to be starts interfering is completely faithful to the real world I would scarcely be the only chess player to associate with Luzhin s discovery of the game, a discovery that means life is suddenly tolerable But something makes me distrust Nabokov s potrayal of the Outsider, and I m tired of trying to figure out what it is.That s the sort of thing I was going to say.But I d rather read Consider me a goodreads outsider. A young boy, a loner, indifferent to everything, discovers chess Ensnared by this insanely addictive game, he becomes even indifferent to everything except chess He grows up, becomes a champion, many of his games considered immortals In a championship game against the equally brilliant Italian Grandmaster Turati, upon adjourning a very difficult position, he suffers a breakdown He survives, but the doctors opine that further chess might be fatal to him Enough of the plot I have been looking for a copy of the film adaptation of this novel at my favorite video pirate shop No luck so far Would love to watch this on screen.It reportedly stars John Turturro presumably as the chess genius Luzhin and Emily Watson as his wife Nabokov s Luzhin is supposed to be short and fat, and his wife not that attractive Emily Watson is lovely, Turturro is lean and tall But Turturro has THAT look Who directed this film How did he do with the mad, but very tender scenes, between Luzhin and his wife How did he illuminate Nabokov s brilliant chess metaphors, through Luzhin, who saw his life, from his childhood onwards, as a long chess combination, the fatal end to which he foresaw, desperately tried to find a way to avert, by defending, by countering the enemy s plans, by thwarting the attacks, with all the tenacity and strength he could muster How to put on screen Nabokov s unparallelled characterizations The jarring dialogues especially Luzhin s few with their admirable uniqueness and unpredictability how did Nabokov conceive all these I read the last three pages of this novel standing up I was about to leave already, for a meeting, but my feet were glued to the floor and my eyes to the book The Luzhin Defense sounds like a chess opening was being played out The conclusion was near Tic, toc, went the chess clock, only seconds remaining