'Of all my novels this bright brute is the gayest, ' Nabokov wrote of King, Queen, Knave. Comic, sensual and cerebral, it dramatizes an Oedipal love triangle, a tragi-comedy of husband, wife and lover, through Dreyer the rich businessman, his ripe-lipped and mercenary wife Martha, and their bespectacled nephew Franz. 'If a resolute Freudian manages to slip in' - Nabokov darts a glance to the reader - 'he or she should be warned that a number of cruel traps have been set here and there...'
This is Nabokov's second novel, written in 1928, which he has recently retouched and which he presents here in a new introduction as his "gayest." Certainly almost to the end, its tone of bonhomie - even buffoonery - prevails and the internal paradox of his later and more important works gives way to external parody. When the novel first appeared, many critics held that it was a "merciless satire of contemporary German bourgeois life" and, Andrew Field to the contrary, certainly it does purvey the heavy comforts of kleinburgerlich life, from roast goose down to the silver mustache brush. And as lived by Dreyer, a businessman with a successful emporium and grossly physical energies, and his bored if glisteningly sensuous Marthe. She's a Berliner Bovary (Mr. Nabokov readily admits the influence), but along with her husband, her villa, her automobile, she has reached a point of domestic tedium and is ready for a lover. The knave is none other than Dryer's nephew Franz, purblind behind his thick glasses, provincial, callow, but at first eager. The necessarily abbreviated if frequent amorous rendezvous lead on - to the willful Marthe's desires to have her freedom along with her husband's wherewithal; to her plan to kill him in which Franz is an increasingly uncomfortable collaborator; to the unexpected reverse in which fate holds the high trump card. . . . Toward the close, with the obsessive projections in the minds of Marthe (as she envisions Dreyer's demise) and Dreyer (his preoccupations with a mechanical mannequin) there are just traces of the later, quintessential Nabokov, and almost none of the stylistic subtleties. However, in terms of the general reader, this is one of his most open-faced entertainments and while Nabokov really plays the hand, he does so in a jauntily diabolical fashion. (Kirkus Reviews)
Series: Penguin Classics Ser.
Number Of Pages: 288
Published: May 2001
Dimensions (cm): 19.8 x 12.9 x 2.1
Weight (kg): 19.7
Edition Number: 1