Tag: Kafkeqsque

Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

Posted May 19, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir NabokovTitle: Invitation to a Beheading (Goodreads)
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Published: Vintage, 1936
Pages: 240
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In this bizarre and irrational world, Cincinnatus has been convicted and condemned to death by beheading for gnostical turpitude, an imaginary crime with no definition.  Cincinnatus spends his remaining days in prison where he is visited by the chimerical jailers, an executioner who masquerades as a prisoner, and his in-laws. When Cincinnatus is finally brought out to be executed, he simply wills his executioners out of existence: they disappear, along with the whole world they inhabit.

There is no denying that Invitation to a Beheading is a weird novel; often compared with Franz Kafka’s The Castle, it is important to know that Vladimir Nabokov had not read any German novels, let alone Kafka when writing this. The reason this is important is to avoid trying to compare the two novels; sure they have similarities but they are still also vastly different. Originally published as a serial, with the title Sovremennye Zapiski (Contemporary Notes), Nabokov has stated while Lolita holds his greatest affection, this novel holds his greatest esteem.

While people call this Kafkaesque, the impossible and dreamlike world reminds me more of Haruki Murakami’s style. From the very start the reader understands there is something not right about this world, this reminded me of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I got the feeling that this wasn’t reality but a world constructed in Cincinnatus’ mind based on his fears, doubts, and insecurities. Cincinnatus’ enemy is the society he’s created and the people of that society act according to ridiculous rules that have been set. We never know what gnostical turpitude is and this will probably remind people of Kafka’s The Trial. Cincinnatus is rebelling against the construction of this reality and the rules the people of this society observe and perhaps this is what makes him a criminal.

Maybe gnostical turpitude is the crime of being different from all the other people in this reality. Maybe Cincinnatus is being oppress for his ideas and his nature. Maybe he is so different from everyone around him; he has an internal depth that the others lack. A lot like Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov has a way about his writing that just leaves you with so many questions that you need to think through, this whole reality and society leaves me perplexed. Though this is the point; life isn’t simple and being an outsider sometimes feels like you are Cincinnatus in a bizarre reality.

While this book primarily looks at society and oppression it also looks at human connection. Cincinnatus desires to connect with his wife Marthe, despite her unfaithfulness and lack of concern for him. The one thing he craves the most is to make a connection and she felt like the logical choice; also the fact that he loved her helped. He begs her to come alone and reveal her true self to him but there is always something that interferes with the communicating.

While this was a very odd book, Vladimir Nabokov is just a brilliant writer and that really makes up for the weirdness. Also the weird and bizarre act as motifs within the narrative and without the symbolism and meaning it would just be trippy book. Nabokov does a good job of weaving his messages and ideas while entertaining the reader in unexpected ways. Most people only ever read  Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and I think that means they miss out on his brilliance, I hope to read more; currently on my To Be Read list is Mary, Pnin and Pale Fire. Are there any others I should add?