Short Story #19. Signs and Symbols (Vladimir Nabokov)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the five of hearts.

Story: Signs and Symbols, by Vladimir Nabokov (I read it at The New Yorker website).

Comments: This is my first encounter with Nabokov.  The story startled me – or rather, the abrupt ending did.  What happened next?  Well, that’s the point, obviously.  An elderly Russian couple who have emigrated to America visit their only son who is in a “sanitarium” for the mentally ill.  He suffers from “referential mania”.  The parents are not allowed to see him because he has attempted suicide.  They return to their apartment; the father decides that he will remove their son from the hospital; the phones rings – it’s a wrong number; the phone rings again, wrong number again; the phone rings again, they don’t answer.  The End.

Hmm.  You can read an interesting essay about The Signs and Symbols in Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols” by Alexander Dolinin here.  And in the footnotes there, you’ll see references to lots of other interpretive works.  Me – I just felt a little short-changed.  I really don’t want to have to do a whole lot of work to figure out what’s going on.   Even to figure out if the author is setting up his readers for a little session of “referential mania” themselves.  But the story is worth a re-read.  The scenes are vivid.  Much is said in few words.  I empathized with the characters all the way through.  It’s credible.

The last day I was in the second-hand bookshop that I occasionally frequent, I considered buying a book about an author’s experience in a mental hospital.  In the end I decided not to, a decision which I now rather regret.  If the book is still there the next time I go back, I might invest.

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5 thoughts on “Short Story #19. Signs and Symbols (Vladimir Nabokov)

  1. Pingback: Deal Me In – Week 22 Wrap Up | Bibliophilopolis

  2. This story just keeps popping up among the DMI readers. I really loved it when I read it earlier this year. Having previously only read Lolita, I was really struck by how different the two works are, not only in theme (obviously,) but in language and tone. Nabokov was certainly versatile.

    Now you have me interested in the title of that book you passed by.

  3. This story has been on my radar for a long time. I’m going to have to read it eventually! I’ve read Lolita and a little of Nabakov’s literary lectures. He’s an interesting author.

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