Vladimir Nabokov is a very special writer. His books are not only very well written but they often require a modest twisting of the reader’s gray cells to experience much of the hidden fun in every story. Everyone who attended school beyond the 9th grade has been introduced toNabokov’s excellent puzzle book, Pale Fire, and although there are still prudish readers who refuse to sully their high morals with the story of a pedophile the likes of Lolita, Nabokov’s novel is arguably in the top ten world-wide. But many readers never go beyond those two books.
If you are reading Nabokov beyond the two well-known novels, I recommend the Nabokov bibliography on Wikipedia.
In 1928 Nabokov was living in Berlin when he wrote King, Queen, Knave. Although not published in English until the ’60s, KQK is an interesting early novel with instances of the Nabokov that will gradually develop during the next thirty years. KQK is fundamentally a traditional story of life in Berlin revolving around a traditional, somewhat wealthy mercantile, his bored but desirable wife, and their young and terribly randy nephew. It doesn’t take long before the wife only has headaches for her husband and spends more time in bed with the nephew. Eventually the lovers seek to eliminate the unsuspecting husband.
Nabokov throws in a few puzzles: hotel guests with names that are anagrams for the author’s name, auto-mannequins that foreshadow the fate of the love triangle, a life vs. art mash-up of the novel, a play, and the movie made from that play (there was also a movie made from Nabokov’s novel), but for the most part the narrative is straightforward and not very challenging.
Even so, Nabokov is one of the greatest authors of the last century and reading all of his novels can demonstrate how an author develops both his style and his themes.