‘Cloud, Castle, Lake’ by Vladimir Nabokov

Cloud, Castle, Lake by Vladimir Nabokov, 1937

The magic trick:

Distorted reality flowing in one direction only

The people in this story seem to act in absurd, extreme ways. Everything is prescribed – right onto down to the enthusiastic group singing. It feels as if our protagonist Vasily Ivanovich has fallen into a Kafka nightmare. But then when he responds with his own act of extreme emotion – his declaration that he will live on this lake forever and not return to Berlin with the group – he is treated as if he is the absurd one. The distorted reality only flows one way in this story.

And that’s quite a trick on Nabokov’s part.

The selection:

“My friends,” he cried, having run down again to the meadow by the shore, “my friends, good-bye. I shall remain for good in that house over there. We can’t travel together any longer. I shall go no farther. I am not going anywhere. Good-bye!”

“How is that?” said the leader in a queer voice, after a short pause, during which the smile on the lips of Vasily Ivanovich slowly faded, while the people who had been sitting on the grass half rose and stared at him with stony eyes.

“But why?” he faltered. “It is here that . . .”

“Silence!” the post-office clerk suddenly bellowed with extraordinary force. “Come to your senses, you drunken swine!”

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