In 1959 Vladimir Nabokov was working on two projects: “The Texture of Time” and “Letters from Terra.” By 1965 he started to see the two ideas as compatible and finally produced Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle which was published in 1969.
The work was initially met with mixed reviews and a tepid reception. Eventually The New York Times heralded the novel as one of the great works in the line of Kafka, Proust, and Joyce.
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For the student, this book is a challenge. There is no straightforward story in the sense that many of us are accustomed. The novel follows twists and turns. It interrupts the flow of time and ruminates and the very concept of time. Even the most obvious theme of incest can be difficult for some readers.
However, with care and patience, there is much to be gained from taking on Nabokov’s work. The novel transforms our ideas of the uses of fiction and story-telling by constantly reminding us that all stories are located within the context of other stories. Narrative and the function of narrative become one of the main issues in Ada.
All of our accepted ideas of a time in which thoughts were firmly grounded in something beyond human knowledge also becomes dislodged. We are then compelled to examine the nature of knowledge itself.
Still in all, the novel does offer us a tale of love, however problematic this love may be. Unlike many of the contemporary novels which followed in the wake of Ada, Nabokov is able to achieve these artistic and philosophical moments without becoming overly cynical. The novel may well erode our firm grasp on time and experience, but human passion and even love remain feasible and believable.
Ada is a challenge and a difficult read, but there is much to be gained from taking on the challenge.