A small novel written in the 1930s (I think — it’s hard to locate) by a Russian expat living in Paris, and not published until much later and translated into English in the 1990s. It’s a small, sad novel about a woman in her 20s finding her best friend from childhood dead by suicide after she’s reconnected with him after a decade or more apart. The novel is written as a kind of reflective of their life as children and adolescents, less about the space of time of their absence, and then the time after his death. It’s a novel that is according to the material of the book jacket autobiographical is semi-autobiographical. And whether that’s true (I am sure it is; there’s no evidence to the contrary) it definitely reads like a novel that is semi-autobiographical.
What makes this all the more curious then, a novel about alienation, about loss of selfhood, about loss of place in the world, about statelessness that novels of exiles, expats, and refugees often talk about to differing degrees, about the kinds of lives we find away from places we call home, is that this semi-autobiographical novel is written in the third person. That close story of alienation, that it’s not written in the first person is at times jarring in this novel, even if the novel is otherwise quite subtle in its presentation.
We are asked to reflect on this novel as something akin to Nabokov, but his most famous book about alienation and loss of place is a memoir, and many of his novels explore this same set of themes (especially Lolita and Pale Fire) in the first person.