Short and bittersweet, this novella is not so much about Mary, but memory. Nabokov’s early writing charts the frenzied week of Lev Glebovich Ganin as he waits to reunite with his first love.
Lev is a Russian emigre living in a Berlin boarding house filled with an odd assortment of characters. A former White Russian officer, he accidentally discovers that his neighbour’s wife is an old flame. She is called Mary, and her arrival is imminent.
It’s an uneasy read: everything feels like it hangs on a precipice, building to the moment that Lev and Mary potentially reunite. There are some beautifully intense flashbacks as Lev recalls the memory of their love affair back in Russia in the week waiting for Mary’s arrival.
And for this reason the neighbours and subplots are irritating- the core of the story is the love affair, past and present. I found myself skipping past the tragicomedy of Lev’s kooky neighbours to get to the nostalgia, the memory that drives the novel.
A lovely, self-contained story that (without wanting to give too much away) reminds you to live in the present, not the past.
Read: when you want to forget about an ex