I can say without any false modesty that I am not the best person in the world to answer that question. I’m not the best person, and possibly the worst person, on this website. I’m probably not even the best person in this room, and I’m the only person in it. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained – I’ll have a stab at it.
If you don’t know the answer to something, it’s best to give a range. How high is Mount Everest? Who knows, but I bet it’s between ten thousand and eighty thousand feet. (A quick Wiki – is there any other kind? – tells me that it is exactly twenty-nine thousand feet, but they stuck an extra two feet on to make the measurement seem more believable.) How far away is Jupiter? Well, further than Mars but not as far as Uranus. You get the picture.
So, how good is Nabokov? Not as good as God, that’s for sure. The upper limit has been agreed. But what about the lower limit? Here (h/t Dave Lull) is Stefan Beck, who shares my scepticism about the unfinished manuscript (my emphasis):
I hope I’m not alone in finding something amusing about Ron Rosenbaum’s article—his breathless, agonized, pleading, even a little self-aggrandizing article—about whether or not Vladimir Nabokov’s unfinished novel The Original of Laura should be destroyed in accordance with Nabokov’s wishes.
I intend no disrespect to Rosenbaum. We all have our obsessions, and Nabokov is a more praiseworthy one than, say, Dr. Who. Still, obsession can cloud judgment, and I don’t think the question at hand is much of a question at all. This isn’t a Linear B tablet or a lost Shakespeare play dredged from the Oak Island Money Pit. It’s a fragment by a literary giant who died within living memory. We shouldn’t pretend to be grateful for the finished, polished, perfect works he did give us without honoring his wishes as to this one.
As for Dmitri Nabokov, I’ll raise the possibility that Rosenbaum—who would cheerfully eat light bulbs for a peek at those thirty pages—cannot: Might not all Dmitri’s hemming and hawing and teasing and stalling be more about himself than about his father’s legacy? Just a thought.
That thought went through my head too.
Not as good as God, then, but better than … Dr Who. But this is not damning with faint praise. Dr Who was, after all, a Time Lord, and very wise. He wore his learning lightly, unlike his scarf. (Tom Baker is my Dr Who.) And did Nabokov have a Tardis?
On the other hand, I never knowingly hid behind the sofa (it's a Brit thing) when Nabokov came on television.