Saturday, September 18, 2010

Invitation to a Beheading - Vladimir Nabokov

Cincinnatus C. ( sin-sin-at-us?) has been sentenced to death by beheading , for some crime classified as "gnostical turpitude". As is the customs, the judge whispered the sentence in his ears with all smile. The smile was in the room and nobody seems to be bothered in particular. Cincinnatus has now been moved into a fortress for his confinement until his head is placed on the 'chop-block'. The wait as no time limit. It is now for the authorities to prepare and execute the order. In the solitary cell, Cincinnatus is trying to come to terms with the surroundings. All he wanted to know is how much is the time left.

However is the attempt by the prison warder, the librarian, the fellow jailer to bring him back to the reality does not yield result, he refuses to get into the routine of their life. The appearance of the 'executor' as a fellow prisoner, to acquaint with his 'victim' ( some pages of faster reading), does not make any impact on him. All he ask is for a few blank sheets and the pen. In confinement, he thus starts writing. But he is not sure if he will be able to complete all that he wanted to say. Even before he was taken to the final destination, all he ask is three more minute to complete what he writing.

Within all these, he refuses to believe the system and the existence of reality. There is nothing he wanted from the meeting of his family. He even refuses to talk to Martha, his wife, rejects her offer to perform whatever he wanted, as he has already been away from all these.Even at the moment of the axe falling on his neck, his real self has already been departed and 'with a clarity he had never experienced before".

Invitation to a beheading is a difficult novel to read. Very Kafkaesque ( though Nabokov denies in the foreword , of having any influence by him) world where the individual is not able to fit himself in the society that is being forced upon him. In his world only he is real and the rest of the cast is a parody and living false life. The attempt to mingle and be part of that is extremely difficult. Nabokov, would have written this possibly with respect to the new Soviet society in mind. State runs and controls everything, the individual has no reason to be, but a part of the society.

"when I first understood that things which to me had seemed natural were actually forbidden, impossible, that any thought of them was criminal."

On the other hand, he is the prisoner of his own fortress. The alternate world that he is building in the self imposed confinement, is the one which crumbles in the end along with the execution of his ego. The build up collapses, the surrounding looses it significance, the people becoming two-dimensional. "Every thing was coming apart, every thing was falling. Cincinnatus made his way in that direction where, to judge by the voices, stood being akin to him".

Nabokov is a master of writing, and it is obvious in his prose. Having said that, this book somehow failed to connect me with the 'hero' and the theme in general. Haven't read any other work apart from Lolita, which stands much above this one.

Invitation to a Beheading ( 1939)

Vladimir Nabokov (translated by Dimitri Nabokov 1959)

Vintage International

223 Pages

Rs 485
Reviews : Conversational Reading,

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Thanks for the heads-up on this book. I have not read it but your blog post inspired me to write my own post about some of the issues raised in the book.