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Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir…
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Invitation to a Beheading (1959)

by Vladimir Nabokov

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (37)  Dutch (1)  Portuguese (1)  Russian (1)  All languages (40)
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
Surreal tale of an outcast
Set in the prison-fortress of an unnamed state, Invitation To A Beheading is a surreal tale chronicling the last days of Cincinnatus C., a man condemned and sentenced to death for... well, what exactly? Apart from the phrase "Gnostical Turpitude" and subtle accusations of being "opaque", his crime is never properly revealed, although throughout the story we learn (courtesy of Cincinnatus's fragmented scribblings) that he is in some way different or special.
At one point he recalls levitating out of a window. In a different memory he overhears group of people whispering "He is one of them, he is a..." - The chatter isn't finished and we never learn what Cincinnatus C. is or what he has done.

Whatever the true nature of his crime is, at the story's start Cincinnatus is found guilty and transported to a yellow-walled cell in a vast prison (in which he is the sole captive). For 20 days he is tormented in peculiar ways by his perversely mundane keepers. As time passes, Cincinnatus increasingly believes his jailers are not who they appear to be.

This short novel will probably flummox those who want a straightforward narrative, yet I think its dislocated symbolism and pathos will appeal most to the reader who (for whatever reason) feels marginalized by the status quo of what is normal and what is culturally expected. Cincinnatus C. is agitated and numbed by a yearning for escape and honesty, while the interferers around him are full of themselves with empty boasts, smug ambition and false concern.

Written in a fluid prose style and marked by smoke-&-mirrors imagery, Invitation To A Beheading is an absurdist classic: a strange snapshot of an outsider's dissolving life. ( )
  BlackGlove | Jan 20, 2018 |
As much as I was prepared to be disappointed with this book (the ending is blown on the back cover! If you don't like spoilers, don't read the blurb on the back of this book!) I was enchanted all the way through. I completely fell in love with Cincinnatus C, and ended up hating most of the rest of the characters for his sake. Well hating is probably too strong a word, but most of them were either very dumb or very self-centered, probably both. But all very real, in a surreal way. ;) One of the few books that engages in "magical realism" where I willingly went along with and bought wholesale all of the lapses from the ordinary world. I loved this book. Another hearty recommendation from me. ( )
1 vote greeniezona | Dec 6, 2017 |
Amazing prose, often.

I think chapter 8 is going to become one of my personal classics: soliloquy of a condemned prisoner. This, with his other passages in solitary and the ending, make a worthy entry in anti-death penalty fiction, alongside such Russians as Leonid Andreyev (Seven Who Were Hanged) and Dostoyevsky (The Idiot). Nabokov’s dad and granddad both worked against the death penalty in government in Russia.

The bizarre farce… I only reconciled to after being guided to look at the book as a quite specific satire on Soviet official philosophy of life, and its intellectual background in 19thC radical circles – the materialist, scientific-determinist school of Chernyshevsky, and Lenin after him, and that lot. Seen in this focus, I get it. Example: I put the novel on pause and under suspicion when I met the wife (I guess I had trust issues left over from Lolita); until I figured out she’s a satire of open marriages as advocated in Chernyshevsky’s novel, which Dostoyevsky satirised too in Demons. Indeed Dostoyevsky (my favourite author if you didn’t know) spent his latter life in struggle against this materialist-determinist tide in radical thought, so I’m up for novel by Nabokov against it.

People have no personhood, except for Cincinnatus, who has 'gnostical turpitude' (his capital crime) because he has a subjectivity which science and other people's eyes cannot plumb. He has glimmerings of a day when the shoddy farce/philosophy of life around him blows away and people are allowed to be real again. In fact he looks forward to the 21st century for a life 'ennobled, spiritualised'... I don't know whether we can help him.

I tend to be impatient of writers-writing-about-writing or similar circuitous topics; given Nabokov's disengaged stance, this is often taken for one. I'll go with the above interpretation, which makes sense to me. ( )
1 vote Jakujin | Aug 8, 2016 |
A book that is hard to understand. ( )
  siok | Jul 6, 2016 |
Outstanding thought provoking and rife with meaning and questions about existence. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vladimir Nabokovprimary authorall editionscalculated
Coutinho, L.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coutinho, M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
García Díaz, Lydia deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nabokov, DmitriTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Comme un fou se croit Dieu, nous nous croyons mortels. - Delaland: Discours sur les ombres
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To Véra
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In accordance with the law the death sentence was announced to Cincinnatus C. in a whisper.
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Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Così ci stiamo avvicinando alla fine. Il lato destro, la parte non ancora gustata del romanzo, che durante la deliziosa lettura tastavamo con delicatezza, verificandone in modo meccanico la consistenza (e le nostre dita erano sempre allietate dal placido, rassicurante spessore), improvvisamente, senza ragione alcuna, è diventato smilzo, qualche minuto di rapida lettura e già eccoci a valle...
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679725318, Paperback)

Like Kafka's The Castle, Invitation to a Beheading embodies a vision of a bizarre and irrational world. In an unnamed dream country, the young man Cincinnatus C. is condemned to death by beheading for "gnostical turpitude." an imaginary crime that defies definition. Cincinnatus spends his last days in an absurd jail, where he is visited by chimerical jailers. an executioner who masquerades as a fellow prisoner, and by his in-laws. who lug their furniture with them into his cell. When Cincinnatus is led out to be executed. he simply wills his executioners out of existence: they disappear, along with the whole world they inhabit.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:26 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"In an unnamed dream country, the young man Cincinnatus C. is condemned to death by beheading for "gnostical turpitude," an imaginary crime that defies definition. Cincinnatus spends his last days in an absurd jail, where he is visited by chimerical jailers, an executioner who masquerades as a fellow prisoner, and by his in-laws, who lug their furniture with them into his cell. When Cincinnatus is led out to be executed, he simply wills his executioners out of existence: they disappear, along with the whole world they inhabit" -- p. [4] of cover.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141185600, 0141196971

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