Nabokov's last book comes to light

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Brace yourself for the literary event of 2009: the posthumous publication of Vladimir Nabokov's last novel.

The novel has been the source of speculation and controversy ever since Nabokov's death in 1977. The author's dying wish, conveyed to his wife, was that the unfinished worked should be burned. But she could never bring herself to do it.

So, instead, the work entitled "The Original of Laura," written on 138 index cards, passed into the hands of Nabokov's son Dmitri. After years of indecision, Dmitri recently announced that he would publish it.

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Last night, in an interview with the BBC, Dmitri revealed something about the book's content for the first time. He said it is the story of an overweight, unattractive but brilliant academic who is driven to despair by the infidelity of his young wife, Flora. (He married Flora because she looks like a young woman he once loved.)

In the BBC interview, Dmitri calls his father's last book "an extraordinarily original work" which is "captivating" but "not necessarily always pleasant – shocking in some ways."

Over the years, many literary experts have speculated that this last book reprises some of the theme's of Nabokov's controversial 1955 book "Lolita."

Dmitri's decision to ignore his father's final wish and publish the book has been controversial. "My father told me what his important books were," Dmitri told the BBC in defense of his decision. "He named 'Laura' as one of them. One doesn't name a book one intends to destroy."

British screenwriter and playwright Tom Stoppard isn't buying it. "It's perfectly straightforward," he told the BBC. "Nabokov wanted it burnt, so burn it."

The BBC notes that this isn't the first time a posthumous work has been fated for the flames. When Lord Byron died in 1824, his memoirs were tossed into the fire at his publishers' office. Byron's literary executors said the destruction was necessary to prevent the poet – once called "mad, bad and dangerous to know" by his lover Lady Caroline Lamb – from ruining his reputation.

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