Book review: ‘Speak, Memory’ by Vladimir Nabokov

‘Speak, Memory’ by Vladimir Nabokov

I seldom read fiction, so haven’t read any of Nabokov’s novels. Speak, Memory isn’t a novel but a memoir. It describes Nabokov’s childhood and youth in a privileged Russian family, and the early days following his emigration to the West during the Russian Civil War. The book kept being mentioned again and again in the books and websites I read, so I thought it was about time I read it. And a damn fine read it turned out to be.

Speak, Memory’s inspired title sums up Nabokov’s approach to this memoir: searching the depths of his memory for the facts, and admitting when he’s unsure. The book is written in immaculate, precise English, even though English wasn’t Nabokov’s native language. I assume this accounts for the text’s slightly otherworldly nature, which I enjoyed immensely, although I did occasionally find it a bit too florid for my liking.

Deservedly seen as a classic.

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Richard Carter

Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. He is currently working on a book about looking at the world through Darwin’s eyes.Website · Newsletter · Mastodon · Facebook


  1. Leon says:

    You **must** read Nabokov, Richard, especially if you are interested in that area between fiction, art, science and biography. The novels are shot through with details of VN’s life as an émigreé (not a million miles from Sebald, I guess, and VN does pop-up in The Emigrants), _and_ he was a renowned lepidoterist.

    Beyond that I can’t think of a better writer of English prose. Try _Pnin_ or _Pale Fire_ first: you’ll love them!

    1. Thanks, Leon. I might get round to it one day, but I make very little time for reading fiction. But the fact that Sebald was a Nabokov fanboy counts very much in his favour.

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