Monday, September 18, 2006

Speak, Memory - post I

While I gather the energy to tackle the third volume of Remembrance of Things Past by Proust I am going to read other childhood/adult memoirs that are in a similar style starting with Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory. I had a tough day at work so I'm afraid read very little but anyway here are the highlights from the foreword and chapters one and two. I am reading the penguin 1969 paperback version.

Bullet points between pages 3 - 41

* In the foreword nabokov admits that the chapters were written for numerous publications not in order and he faced a challenge putting them into a chronology as well as making sure he could do research on his family, which he improved on between the first editions and the following versions of the book

* He describes the process of trying to go back in time to discover memories as one fraught with frustration:
"I have journeyed back in thought - with thought hopelessly tapering off as I went - to remote regions where I groped for some secret outlet only to discover that the prison of time is spherical and without exits." pg18

* He places his early years in the context of a Russia at war with Japan (1905) and there is a story about a general who comes to his house as a child and uses matchsticks to demonstrate the difference between a calm and stormy sea who he then meets during the Russian civil war again asking for a light for a cigarette as he tries to flee the red forces. The way he talks of the double meeting is incredibly Proustian:
"The following of such thematic designs through one's life should be, I think, the true purpose of autobiography." pg23

* He was very close to his mother because of numerous childhood illnesses and the same ability to see words and colours and a shared passion for mathematics

* The years then skip past with the first world war, the revolution and exile for his family being described in a sentence. The constant through all of those events is his mother who he describes in loving detail as a widower wearing both her own and her husband's wedding rings


litlove said...

I really want to read this book. But I want to find a quiet, peaceful time to do it, because I imagine it's the kind of book that would repay some close attention.

simon quicke said...

Although it is shortish it does involve quite a lot of thinking because it isn't written with the same attention to narrative as Proust and you really do see some of the downsides of putting together a collection of what in most cases are already pre-published chapters.