Last weekend I wanted to start my journey with Vladimir Nabokov. He has been admired by many, and that always stupefied me. So I decided to read one of his books, and I started out with The Luzhin Defense or The Defense, if you prefer. It is a story of obsession, that turns into madness. Luzhin, born in a Russian aristocratic family, a boy who is ridiculed by his peers at school, finds to solace in the game of chess as happened to be introduced by guest, one night in his father’s study.
Luzhin’s obsession with chess turns into his ability that draws him away from everyone, his peers as well as his parents. It becomes his refuge from everyday life. This causes major absentmindedness but he observes everything as of a significant move as in the game. Soon enough his obsession makes him a grandmaster and he travels Europe, making money by playing the game “blindly”. The author’s in-depth knowledge of the game is a clear exhibit throughout the book.
Luzhin’s soon turns into madness as he suffers from a nervous breakdown against another Grandmaster from Italy. The game is suspended and has to give up his obsession only after he marries an unnamed girl that becomes undemonstrative. His obsession with chess takes as far in his conscience as he begins to see the world around as a giant chess game with repeated moves in the shadow of his past which comes haunting back in many forms. Luzhin, at last, solves the puzzle, of life.
The plot is not at all complex. The language or as I usually call it the “writing” is impressive. One thing I observed that to read Nabokov’s writing, a reader has to be attentive at all cost. Nabokov knows how to use his vocabulary and he does that very fluently. The characters are some what modest. The appear themselves to be “pawns” in the hands of the writer, just like the chess piece in the hand of player.
I managed to solve Luzhin’s defense myself when he first encounters the puzzle of life and wholesomely knew the fate he will be coming across. On reading this book, my observation is that this is definitely not Nabokov’s magnum opus but a good starting point and has its own pleasures.
3 out of 5!