The Book Look: Nabokov’s ‘Laughter in the Dark’ examines blindness, both figuratively and literally

Laughter in the Dark, by Valdimir Nabakoff.

The Magnet Tribune: Creative Commons license

Laughter in the Dark, by Valdimir Nabakoff.

Lauren Melendez, 'Book Look' Columnist

Vladimir Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark is a delightfully evil tale of deceit, infidelity, and tragedy. One of his most noteworthy witticisms was, perhaps, the following line: “Death often is the point of life’s joke.” This cynical theory proved to be true, in the case of Albinus, the unfortunate man whose story this is.

Nabokov boldly begins the novel with the words “Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany a man called Albinus. He was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved; was not loved; and his life ended in disaster.”

Though this is just about the entirety of the story, Nabokov graced readers with the unabridged, uncut version of this ironic tragicomedy.

Laughter in the Dark follows the aforementioned Albinus: a middle-aged art critic, father, and husband. He lived a comfortable life with a sizeable income, decent reputation, and a daughter who loved him. His picturesque existence was shattered when the beautiful young Margot becomes the object of his attention. After a short courtship, Albinus shamelessly abandoned his wife and child to move in with Margot, who soon revealed her true colors.

At first, the affair seemed to be mutually beneficial. Albinus had a renewed sense of youthfulness, and a substantial boost to the ego. Margot, on the other hand, had both Albinus’ wealth and affection at her disposal- a dangerous combination.

Margot turned out to be a vile, vain young thing. Because she dreamed of stardom and money, she used Albinus’ resources to land a part in a film. At this junction of the story, the plot thickens, for in walks Axel Rex, a film producer and Margot’s former paramour.

One of the most interesting aspects of this novel was the way the story was told. The narrator’s impassive tone complimented the subtle irony that was interwoven throughout the book. Another interesting aspect of the writing style was how although the narrator was omniscient, it typically follows one character at a time. When said character interacts with another, the story swaps perspectives and follows the latter, like a game of “tag,” if you will.

What was most beguiling about the novel was Rex and Margot’s capacity for evil, and their lack of guilt. After Rex worms his way back into Margot’s life, they rekindle their love and incite an affair, right under Albinus’ nose. The three seemingly grow closer, and even take a trip to Paris together. Margot and Rex are extremely brazen with their actions, only half-attempting to hide their affair from Albinus, who was blind to Margot’s flaws. Though they exhibited many signs, and were sloppy in trying to conceal them, all Margot had to do to throw Albinus off their scent was leisurely come up with a lie- something that came naturally to her.

Rex and Margot’s actions ultimately result in the downfall of Albinus. An ironic turn of events ensues: an adulterer becomes the victim of adultery; A liar is lied to; and he who was blinded metaphorically, becomes blinded, literally.

It is best to leave it at that, so as not to reveal too much of the book’s plot. Though Nabokov considers it to be his worst work, Laughter in the Dark was intelligently written, and now holds the rank of one of my favorite novels, for it is so depressing that it’s almost charming. If you are looking for a dreary novel that will undoubtedly make you feel better about your own life, I strongly urge you to pick up Laughter in the Dark.