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Vladimir Nabokov: Ada or Ardor

This is Nabokov’s longest novel and one of the most complicated. Like Ulysses, it really helps if you speak several languages besides English, specifically French, Russian, German and Dutch. The action takes place on another planet called Antiterra which resembles Earth in many ways, though the geopolitics are somewhat different. Much of the action takes place in a country called Amerussia. The story is basically one of incest. The novel is primarily the posthumous memoir of Van Veen, with a few interpolations by Ada. While a teenager, Van visits his uncle at Ardis Hall and meets and falls in love with his cousin, Ada. They then discover that they are, in fact, brother and sister and not cousins. This only intensifies their passion. Their affair continues for some time, till Ada is unfaithful. Van leaves and both have affairs with other people but neither is happy. They get back together again but again split up. Meanwhile, Lucette, nominally Ada’s sister but, in fact, the half-sister of both, has fallen in love with Van but is rejected and kills herself. Ada marries but, when her husband dies, the two get back together again and stay together (he is 97 and she 95 at the end). The book attracted mixed reviews. Some have seen it as a celebration of love; others as mere exhibitionism. I found it a good book to read but it did not have the magic of some his earlier works.

Publishing history

First published 1969 by McGraw-Hill