Title: Cleaning Nabokov’s House
Author: Leslie Daniels
Release Date: March 1, 2011
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Rating: 3.75 out of 5
Barb Barrett is numb with the pain and shock of divorce. She gave up everything - her bright New York City career, her friends, her life - in order to move upstate with her husband and have his children. What’s worse, because she doesn’t have a job or a regular income, Barb has lost custody of her children. On an impulse, Barb puts a down payment on a house that used to be the residence of author Vladimir Nabokov. When she finds a manuscript in the house that could be Nabokov’s, everything begins to change.
If I had to pick one word to describe Cleaning Nabokov’s House, it would be “absurd” - but I mean that in the best of ways. Barb Barrett is a lost, frustrated woman when the story begins. Losing her children has left her completely bereft, and she doesn’t know how to handle it. She has a low sense of self-worth and doesn’t even know how to begin to get her kids back, so she doesn’t even try. The Nabokov manuscript is crucial to Barb’s healing; it makes her put herself out there and gives her faith in something again.
The Nabokov manuscript is an amusing plot device, and it’s handled in the best of ways. This isn’t one of those books where someone finds a dusty old manuscript in a locked chest and is off on some sort of literary mystery. It doesn’t really matter whether the manuscript was written by Nabokov or not - all that matters is that Barb believes it is.
Once Barb receives that jolt of self-esteem, she embarks on a quest to get her children back, and this is where the book really takes a strange turn. While I’m not going to discuss the plot specifics because of spoilers, I will admit I still don’t know what to think about the avenue the book heads down. While it is very funny, it’s also completely random and was a big departure from the rest of the book. While clever, I’m not sure how well it worked for me.
Despite my qualms with the book, Cleaning Nabokov’s House is an amusing novel with a very sympathetic main character. Though at times, it can be frustrating because Barb doesn’t seem to want to help herself, her paralyzed state is understandable because she is so devastated. I appreciated the humor and warmth the book contained, and while the storyline takes questionable turns, if you can just go with it, you’ll really enjoy this book. I look forward to seeing what Daniels does next.