This novel is written in a rather unique style. It opens with an epic poem by the fictitious author John Shade about his daughter’s suicide. The rest of the novel is then a commentary on the poem by the poet’s friend, Charles Kinbote. True to his style, Nabokov uses the narcissistic Kinbote as an unreliable narrator who misinterprets the poem to tell his own story–that of the nation of Zembla, which had recently been taken over by Soviet-style revolutionaries, and of a plot to kill the former king.
As usual, Nabokov demonstrates a great mastery of the English language, and uses a lot of subtle wordplay from his native Russian language. For example, the country “Zembla” is derived from the Russian word “Zemlya,” which means land. Nabokov’s language isn’t for everyone–a lot of people might find him to use overly complex language to tell his story–but it is one thing about this book that I greatly admire.