Friday, February 26, 2010

Pale Fire

I'm getting to sleep, or verging on it. I've just read an article about Vladimir Nabokov's The Originals of Laura: A Novel in Fragments, the last novel that he outlined in carefully organised index cards before he died. The main character in his outline is called Hubert Hubert. It seems to me that the ultimate conceit of the buyer of this special and strange release (of which I will probably be one) is to be the shuffler of his post-humus deck of cards, determining the plot and path of his final, unfinished novel.

'If the reader so wishes they can detach any card ... by simply pressing along the frame. Then, by having the cards in hand, they become free to shuffle or re-arrange them in whatever order they deem to be closer to Nabokov's original design ... Without its cards, the book, now hollowed out, can be be shelved back in your library: its outer aspect remains unchanged, yet it now conceals a cavity in which you can conceal your last will, your house keys, a small flask of Old Calvados or your wife's favourite earrings.' 1

At Otago University we studied Pale Fire by Nabokov, a convoluted, complex and funny novel. Once, our tweedy professor could not make it to a Pale Fire lecture and we sat through a video of some obscure, earnest assholes vindicating the ethical sexual politics of Lolita over and over again. Nabokov's Lolita leaves me cold: that old homicidal Humbert Humbert gives me the creeps. I walked out eventually. I was the only mature aged, motherofdaughter student there. It only took fifteen minutes ...

So I am drifting off, thinking about all this and falling into deep, deep sleep.

I feel a torch light at my window and there's voices saying 'Sarah, Sarah.'

Something inside me understands that I must wake. I have to get up to work at 4.30 this morning to pick up nets but this call is an old call. I know this one. Spotlights at the window.

A paddy wagon.
The dog stirs and swaggers his lion walk up the drive.
'We've got your daughter.'
I pull on my dress. I have to turn on the light to find it. I know the curtain is a bit see-through. I walk up the driveway into flashing lights.
She's a fucking mess. Torn stockings. A dress an electric blue to hurt your eyes. No hand bag. No shoes.

She's crying in the cage. 'My mum will be so ashamed of me. She'll be angry!'
'Come on, darling. Get out.'
She's paralytic. She's screaming about punching holes in walls. 'It's bed time,' I say.
To the cops, knowing they see the best of us people at the worst times, I say, 'Her hand bag? Her shoes? Where did you find her? If you find her stuff, you know where we are.'
As a final goodbye, as they leave in disgust, I say, 'She'll grow up soon.'
'And we'll still be arresting her,' they say, as they walk away.

1. Simon Leys. 'Sins of the Son', The Monthly, Feb, 2010.


  1. Poor everyone - poor girl, poor you and poor policemen.

  2. I am remain in awe that you still do what you do amidst the mayhem that seems to take over your life at times!

  3. Yes, most of the time life is pretty cruisy but when it comes crashing down, it tends to do so big time!

    It would nice to shuffle the plot around, control the direction of the drama, but real life is not like that!

  4. You know Sarah...this is such a powerful piece I thought it was invented.

    Growing up can be such a time of confusion and experimentation...trying to make sense of self and the wonder, hey?

    The universe has incredible timing.

  5. You are right, again, Sontag. It is a confusing time growing up. I remember bits of it as being horrendous, as all those limits are searched for - and found.