, a novel by Vladimir Nabokov
The original Russian text for Despair was written in 1932 in Berlin and published in 1936. Its title was Otchayanie, "a far more sonorous howl," writes Nabokov. It was translated to English in 1937, but was not well received. A few years later, the whole stock, save the copy owned by Nabokov and perhaps two or three others, was destroyed by a German bomb.
It wasn't until 1965 that Nabokov dusted off his manuscript and re-translated Otchayanie to Despair. In fact, he did more than translate; he revamped and added to it.
The foreword itself shows Nabokov at his cajoling, humorous best. He says what he needs to say, while at the same time entertaining the reader, and poking fun at everyone, including himself and other authors.
The story itself centers around Hermann, a deliciously fallible man who undertakes a rather delicate project. But I won't be the one to spoil it for you.
I will say this, however: near the beginning of the book, Hermann sees someone, and this one place is where Nabakov's brilliance shines through. Hermann sees someone, and it becomes an event within an event. Nabokov plays with the reader, teasing you and leading you on. He leads you on in such a way that you roll your eyes and groan and think of your Uncle Soandso who always does this same sort of thing, but all the while you are laughing at yourself. He creates suspense out of the ordinary.
On top of that, Nabokov goes off on many tangents, taking you with him. He talks to the reader, insults us, and winds us around his little finger, as we have no choice but to keep reading. Despair, despite it's rather dreary title, is made delightful by Nabakov's narrative style.