Monday, July 27, 2009

Finished Pnin, which managed to, for the most part, evade a plot and remain a character study. By the end, several elements had unexpectedly reared their heads which turned out to be all there was of a plot; this was in keeping with the nature of the character, a static soul who was not altered, by the end, but had had some shocks to the system and was moving on. Twice it appeared that elements of the story would become key turning points, but in both cases Pnin managed to merely take them in stride.

Throughout, the writing was brilliant and lively, and by the end, the occasional evidence of a first-person narrator not only made sense, it brought the story into sharper relief and gave greater sympathy to the character. Rather an amazing final act, really.

At one point in the novel, Pnin attends (by sheer luck, having lost his way repeatedly) a party for Russian émigrés. The Holocaust, which to that point had eluded mention, suddenly becomes personal, and as Pnin thinks about all of the dead through the actions of both Germany and Russia, we have this:

Pnin slowly walked under the solemn pines. The sky was dying. He did not believe in an autocratic God. He did believe, dimly, in a democracy of ghosts. The souls of the dead, perhaps, formed committees, and these, in continuous session, attended to the destinies of the quick.

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