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25 January 2008

Nabokov burning

Ben du Preez casts his eye over rich patrons, poets in peril and a masterpiece that may never be rea

By Ben du Preez

Gongs dominated the literary world this week, as the much-touted Glaswegian AL Kennedy won the Costa Prize with her WWII-epic, Day. The chair of judges, Joanna Trollope, described the part-time comedienne as ‘an extraordinary stylist’ and compared her to James Joyce. But there was also news that the Nestle prize for children’s fiction is no more.

With the ongoing grind of Arts Council cuts, it seems like artists will rely even more heavily on the generosity of wealthy benefactors. Take, for example, the £5million facelift Randy Lerner, owner of Aston Villa football club, has graciously donated to the National Portrait Gallery. Villa fans are said to be livid. Lerner’s not complaining, though; the ground floor galleries will be named after him in recognition.

Elsewhere, a Burmese poet was arrested for a cryptic message inside a love poem which, when read vertically, the first word of each line formed the sentence: “Power crazy Senior General Than Shwe.” Less arcane was the release of Jonathan Yeo’s official portrait of a ‘mellow, bouncy’ Tony Blair as prime minister. For many, however, to burn or not to burn was the question which dominated the week as Dimitri Nabokov, the sole surviving heir of Vladimir Nabokov, hinted he would burn the author’s unfinished novel, The Original of Laura, as stipulated in his will. Referring to it as “the most concentrated distillation of [my father’s] creativity” has not helped matters.

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