Sometimes I sit down to share my thoughts about a book I’ve read and find myself faced with a blank page (or blog post), really not knowing what to say. Today is a case in point; I picked up, for no reason I can really pin down, an unread Nabokov title – “Transparent Things” – and although I thought it was quite brilliant, I’m struggling to say why. But I shall try to pull some coherent thoughts together – forgive me if I ramble!!

I’ve read a reasonable amount of Nabokov, both pre-blog and during the blog’s life, and I often turn to his short stories if they fit in with one of our reading weeks. I feel that he’s a total one-off, much as Borges is; a unique writer with a distinct and invidual prose style who spins the most marvellous tales; and his prose is always such an exhilarating read. “Transparent Things” is a late novella, from 1972 – one of his last works in fact – and it tells of one Hugh Person, relating his life story via the four visits he makes to a small village in Switzerland.

Person first visits as a child with his father; then as a publisher’s editor, to visit the eccentric author R.; the third visit brings dark actions and results; and in the final journey back to the village, Person looks over his past, trying to come to terms with his life an actions. That’s a simplistic summary, of course, as there is much more to the story than this; not least, Person’s love life and his relationships with Julia and Armande (one of whom he eventually marries…) Person is a troubled and damaged person, insecure in his relationships with others, and tragedy does follow then madness and incarceration. The book’s ending is dramatic and perhaps unexpected, but oddly satisfying in a strange way, and very much in keeping with the tenor of Person’s life.

I can commit to memory a whole page of the directory in three minutes flat but I’m incapable of remembering my own telephone number. I can compose patches of poetry as strange and new as you are, or as anything a person may write three hundred years hence, but I have never published one scrap of verse except some juvenile nonsense at college. I have evolved on the playing courts of my father’s school a devastating return of service – a cut clinging drive – but I’m out of breath after one game. Using ink and aquarelle I can paint a lake-scape of unsurpassed translucence with all the mountains of paradise reflected therein, but I’m unable to draw a boat or a bridge or the silhouette of human panic in the blazing windows of a villa by Plam.

And the transparent things of the title? I was slightly flummoxed by this, and the references to the actual transparency of things – but then Nabokov often blurs the lines between past and present, as if everything in life itself is transparent. The book explores memory and its frailties, moving backwards and forwards in time, and in typical Nabokovian fashion the author/narrator treats his characters almost as specimens which he’s studying. There *are*, if I’m honest, a couple of points where I felt uncomfortable, particularly where Person becomes fixated with pictures of Armande as a child; but then he is a character obsessed, which I hope is the point the author is trying to make.

Thinking back on my reading of this, I guess I might consider it as one of Nabokov’s minor works (if an author like him can be said to have such a thing). However, it’s beautifully written, full of exquisite wordplay, narrative tricks and a story told by a voice which leads us in all sorts of different directions. There are allusions dropped into the story which make sense when you get to the end, and it’s the kind of book which definitely needs a re-read once you’ve finished it for the first time. There’s no denying that Nabokov’s prose is always stunning, and even though I’m not sure I picked up everything which is hidden in the narrative, “Transparent Things” was a wonderful reading experience, and a book I certainly want to revisit to explore its hidden depths!