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Vladimir Nabokov: Король, дама, валет (King, Queen, Knave)

This is by no means a great novel but it is fun and has some of Nabokov’s little tricks, which we will see in his later books. For example, there is a character called Blavdak Vinomori, a not very subtle anagram of his own name. Little games like characters looking at the action from unusual viewpoints – without glasses, through their legs and so on – will also appear again. This is also the first of his novels not to use Russians but Germans as the main characters. The plot is simple, a standard love triangle. The simple Franz is given a job in a department store in Berlin by his uncle, a nice man. Martha, the uncle’s wife, takes an interest in Franz and they start an affair. She plots with Franz to kill the uncle and inherit his wealth. Nabokov tells it in a somewhat farcical manner. However, in a nice twist, it is Martha that dies (of pneumonia), leaving Franz somewhat relieved. The characters are weak, the plot fairly predictable and it is somewhat farcical but nevertheless enjoyable.

Publishing history

First published 1928 by Slovo, Berlin
First English translation 1968 McGraw-Hill and Weidenfeld and Nicolson