Nabokovís last take
Chris Green

IT is one of literatureís most fiercely-guarded secrets, a great authorís unfinished masterpiece that has lain deep within the vaults of a Swiss bank for more than three decades.

Vladimir NabokovEarlier this year, the son of Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita, said he intended to publish the incomplete work, disobeying his fatherís dying wish for it to be burned. Now Dmitri Nabokov has finally broken his silence about the contents.

Entitled The Original Of Laura, it was written on 138 index cards by the Russian-American author as he lay dying in hospital. Just before he died in 1977, he made his wife, Vera, promise to throw the manuscript on the fire. She could not bring herself to do it.

When Vera followed her husband to the grave, the decision about what to do with the novel was passed to his son. Nabokov has now decided to publish the book, which is likely to cause a sensation when it is released.

The 73-year-old said in an interview to the BBC: "My father told me what his most important books were. He named Laura as one of them. One doesnít name a book one intends to destroy. He would have reacted in a sober and less dramatic way if he did not see death staring him in the face. He certainly would not have wanted it destroyed. He would have finished it."

As one of few people alive to have read his fatherís final novel, Nabokov was also able to shed some light on its structure and plot. He described it as "an extraordinarily original work" which was "captivating" but also "not necessarily always pleasant ó shocking in some ways".

The hero of the book is Philip Wild, an overweight and physically unattractive academic with a brilliant mind who has a "wildly promiscuous" and unfaithful wife named Flora, whom he married because of her resemblance to a young woman he once loved. In the novel, which is both playful and dark, Wild toys with the idea of committing suicide.

Debate over the contents of the authorís unfinished work has raged for decades. It is said to repeat many of the themes of his controversial 1955 novel Lolita in which the narrator Humbert Humbert lusted after a |12-year-old girl.

Many literary experts have speculated that The Original Of Laura was far more sexually explicit that its predecessor, perhaps explaining why Nabokov did not want it to be published without an ending.

ó By arrangement with The Independent