13 February 2015

Book Review: Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

What if you are arrested for some weird yet undefinable crime, and suddenly you find yourself to be on death row? This is the story of Cincinnatus C., the main character of this book, written by Vladimir Nabokov. I only have read Lolita before, but since a book I read recently made several references to this book, I figured I should read this since it sounded interesting enough.

So, Cincinnatus C. gets arrested, sentenced, and sent to this weird Kafkaesque prison to await his beheading. However, each and every day is weird. First of all, he doesn't know when he would die. That is the most annoying thing. And then, there is the issue of his family, who visits him bringing all of their furniture into the prison cell. There also is this Monsieur Pierre, who is this annoying person who is his fellow prisoner, but turns out to be his executioner. And all Cincinnatus wants is some peace of mind.

The weird thing is, there are surreal things that happen to him everyday. However, when the time for him to die finally arrives, poof, everything disappears, just because he willed them to disappear. And he ends up not dying. Yes, this is a surreal dystopian novel, something that takes a little bit of time to be digested. Until now, sometimes I wonder what is the point of the entire novel, and I end up scratching my head thinking about it. But perhaps that is the whole point. This is just a world where all of our assumptions are thrown out the window, and everything we know about the world becomes irrelevant. It is like a major culture shock.

Perhaps that is the whole point of the novel. It's not a massive novel, just a couple hundred pages, chronicling the last twenty days of Cincinnatus' imprisonment. But it definitely is psychological torture, I have to say. I suppose what this novel impressed upon me is the fact that we all have these assumptions, and we carry these assumptions around with us. However, when we enter a world where these assumptions don't hold, then we clam up and close ourselves from the outside world. This is true whether we visit a foreign country and we encounter culture shock, or whether we enter a dystopian novel and get introduced to its irrational mechanisms.

Overall, I find this novel very reminiscent of Franz Kafka, though apparently the author was not aware of Kafka during the time this was written. It's not a novel that is easily accessible, and it takes a little time to process it. That being said, I enjoyed reading this novel and would gladly recommend it to readers who would want a mind fuck every now and then. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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