The Vane Sisters, Vladimir Nabokov

by Nabokov, Vladimir

It had been some years since I’ve read any Nabokov, which I can only blame a youthful use of mind-shrinking substances or a two-mile-long to-read list. But recently, I made a full-length audiobook of Dustin Long’s Icelander, whose completion set me on a mission. I’m not going to shill Icelander too much (ahem, only five bucks! And I get a piece!), but there was no way for any reasonable person — or even myself — to finish it and not start thumbing through the old master’s treasures, all of which I’ve loved plenty at some point or other. You’ll see what I mean if you listen to Icelander (ahem: Iambik Audiobooks, who released it, features plenty other Miette-approved titles in its inaugural selection).

So there I was, splayed out on the floor surrounded by cracked copies of Pnin and Pale Fire and Ada and all the rest, just madly paging through a title, locating its place within the vast underworld of my memory, enjoying the moment of recognition, then putting it aside and grabbing the next… and then I reached for the stories.

One of the nicer books in my library of the beaten and battered is a lovely hard-cover of the collected stories, and toward the end of it, the Vane Sisters, which proved to be the reminiscent equivalent of a half-ton of Madeleines force-fed by aliens. Not only had I forgotten how imbued this story was with everything I love about literature, but in its way, it seemed to be a sort of Ur-text for Icelander. No fooling: if you’ll pardon the connect-the-dots of the subject matter, this was not unlike being poked in the neck by the very ghosts the story conjures. Spooky stuff, for a girl on the floor of her own dusty library.

Two clues to solving the story’s puzzle:

1> You may need to listen to it twice.
2> You may need to see this, the final paragraph, to make sense of things:

I could isolate, consciously, little. Everything seemed blurred, yellow-clouded, yielding nothing tangible. Her inept acrostics, maudlin evasions, theopathies – every recollection formed ripples of mysterious meaning. Everything seemed yellowly blurred, illusive, lost.

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PS: Wanna hear some of Icelander
by Dustin Long? The entire first chapter is ready for your ears.

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Okay, done shilling. Back to Nabokov:

Article written by miette

Miette has been podcasting the best of world literature's short fiction since March 2005, when she was just a pup.

4 Responses

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  1. R. Ross
    R. Ross October 28, 2010 at 11:09 am |

    Sorry Miette can’t play or download The Vane Sisters by Vladimir Nabokov. Only 4 seconds comeS across (no need to pulish this) thanks for your work

  2. miette
    miette October 28, 2010 at 11:14 am |

    Hmmm… it plays well here. Maybe try this link, or let me know what your browser and operating system is, and I’ll do my best to geek it into shape for you:

    http://www.miettecast.com/podpress_trac/web/430/0/Miette_Nabokov_VaneSisters.mp3

  3. Ideaman
    Ideaman October 31, 2010 at 12:18 pm |

    I had no idea why you typed out the last paragraph until I heard you read it. Now I feel like a genius for figuring it out. I love it. More like this!

  4. Dustin
    Dustin November 4, 2013 at 2:31 pm |

    MIette, good catch! You’re right on about it being the “ur-text.”

Please comment with your real name using good manners.

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