Invitation to a Bonfire
Adrienne Celt, inspired by the Nabokov marriage, wrote a work of "found fiction." Her book, Invitation to a Bonfire, pieces together diary pages from a fictional young woman named Zoya, and love letters from a fictional Russian writer named Leo "Lev" Orlov (based on Vladimir Nabokov). In doing so, she builds up sexual and violent tension to a point where I hit the end of the novel and thought, HOLY SHIT.
The premise of the novel centers on Zoya, a young woman who is sent to America, orphaned when her parents die in the Soviet Union in the wake of the Russian Revolution. She ends up at the Donne School, a wealth boarding school, and falls in love with the Soviet writer Lev Orlov, who is married to a childhood acquaintance of hers, Vera.
I don't want to spoil anything for you, but there's a very dark love triangle that happens. As Kirkus Reviews writes, "An ominous snowball of a novel (very) loosely based on the Nabokov marriage, with a slow-burning first half and a second half that hurtles toward inevitable catastrophe, it’s a book that requires some patience, but that patience—carefully calculated—pays off in spades. Rich and moody."
After finishing, I immediately googled the Nabokovs, and came across an essay by Judith Thurman in the New Yorker titled "Silent Partner," about the marriage between Vladimir and Véra Nabokov. Véra, a Soviet Jew, is turned into a Russian aristocrat (not Jewish) in Celt's re-telling. But her apparently controlling personality remains. Thurman writes, Véra was "his first reader, his agent, his typist, his archivist, his translator, his dresser, his money manager, his mouthpiece, his muse, his teaching assistant, his driver, his bodyguard (she carried a pistol in her handbag), the mother of his child, and, after he died, the implacable guardian of his legacy." Now I wonder: how much of Véra's work is passed off as Vladimir's?
Although it took me a few tries to get into it, the book hooked me a quarter of the way in with its mystery. Rating: ★★★★
Get it here: https://amzn.to/2AgsMaZ