Vladimir Nabokov's last novel, and certainly not his best known.
LATH is, at least to some extent, a joke on the type of reader (or critic) who insists upon reading fiction as autobiography (an interpretational solecism that is idiotic in almost any instance, and potentially slanderous in the case of the author of Lolita). The narrator of LATH, Vadim Vadimovich N (we are never told his full last name), is, like Nabokov, a Russian writer who becomes an American one, and his life story bears various tantalizing resemblances and ironic dissimilarities to that of his creator. (For instance, the narrator's first novels are written under the pseudonym Irisin; Nabokov's were written as Sirin.) The joke is driven home by poor Vadim's dim awareness that his life is merely a "non-identical twin, a parody, an inferior variant of another man's life, somewhere on this or another earth" (p. 89; all page references here are to the 1974 McGraw-Hill edition). This awareness gives him something in common with Adam Krug, the philosopher in Bend Sinister who comes to realize that Nabokov is his creator.
The delicate counterpoint between the narrator's life and the author's is established from the beginning: in the first sentence of the novel, Vadim refers to "the first of my three or four successive wives," but LATH, like all of Nabokov's books, is dedicated to his one and only wife, Véra. Vadim shares his creator's contempt for Freud and his condescending amusement at bad translations, but apparently not his interest in lepidoptery: "I know nothing about butterflies, and indeed do not care for the fluffier night-flying ones, and would hate any of them to touch me" (p. 34). This point of contrast, though, is called into question by occasional entomological metaphors; the narrator may not care for moths, but his vocabulary of images includes eyespots and instars. Or are these details glimpses of Nabokov himself, shining through yet another unreliable narrator?
The novel is prefaced by a list of "Other Books by the Narrator," and this bibliography gives Nabokov (an incorrigible punster) an opportunity to riff on his own titles. Some examples:
The narrator also alludes to a book called The Invisible Lath, which echoes both LATH itself and Nabokov's penultimate novel, Transparent Things.
The title Look at the Harlequins! refers to a dictum the narrator learns from his grand-aunt (pp. 8-9):
"Stop moping!" she would cry: "Look at the harlequins!"
"What harlequins? Where?"
"Oh, everywhere. All around you. Trees are harlequins, words are harlequins. So are situations and sums. Put two things together jokes, images and you get a triple harlequin. Come on! Play! Invent the world! Invent reality!"
This advice may be felicitously applied to the business of living, or of writing, or of reading Nabokov.