Laughter in the Dark

For the record, I don’t really get Russian authors. I get that Russia is a depressing, gray, snowy country. But I’ve never been there, so the generally sobering Russian literature doesn’t really make much sense to me. Mostly I’m a pretty content guy and Russia (at least according to its most famous authors) is not a very happy place.

With that said, Vladimir Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark was a fairly enjoyable read. Although it was definitely a bleak portrayal of one man’s life, it maintained a light-hearted humor throughout. Because each character was flawed in different ways, the reader maintains a sort of distance since it is impossible to become attached to any of the characters. That means it is that much easier to take when each character gets his or her eventual comeuppance.

In Lost, the book appears in the season three episode Flashes Before your Eyes. In that episode, Charlie finds the book amongst Sawyer’s stash. Later in the same episode, Hurley is shown reading the book.

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Laughter in the Dark tells the story of Albinus, a middle-aged, semi-perverted art critic who is wealthy for reasons that aren’t exactly clear. Early in the novel, he visits a movie theater and becomes infatuated with one of the ushers, a barely-of-age young lady named Margot. Albinus is married but continues to show up at the movie theater every night to stare at Margot. Each potential encounter grew increasingly awkward, reminding me of the narrator in Notes from the Underground, another bleak Russian portrayal of human nature.

Albinus and Margot eventually begin “talking” – as the kids say nowadays – after Albinus starts to stalk Margot home each night. A passionate love affair culminates in Albinus paying for an apartment for Margot to stay at so she is ready for their various rendezvous. Predictably, Albinus’ wife learns about the affair and her and the kids leave Albinus and his young lover immediately after.

Albinus moves in with Margot into the apartment he bought for her. Things are still awkward. Albinus loves Margot, but she seems cold towards him. The two can’t go out in public because everyone talks about their situation behind their backs. Tensions boil over when Albinus uses his connections in the arts to land Margot a starring role in a film. At the initial screening of the film, viewers (including Margot) find it painfully obvious that Margot has no acting ability whatsoever. The two decide to vacation in Switzerland to get away from the scene for a while. Albinus hopes this will rekindle their passion for each other.

The most important thing to know about Albinus is that he is in idiot. During the filming of the movie in which Margot starred, he unwittingly introduces Margot to his friend Rex. Margot already knew Rex: the two had had a serious relationship years prior. The two embark on their own love affair, each for completely different reasons. Margot because she never stopped lusting after Rex and Rex because he doesn’t particularly like Albinus and wants to spite him. Rex follows the two to Switzerland.

While there, Albinus meets an old friend that lives in a nearby village. His initial meeting with the friend was cut short, so he wanted to go back to meet him again. Unfortunately for Albinus, he chooses to drive his car, crashes it, and permanently blinds himself.

Now it’s on for Rex and Margot. Rex poses as a doctor and moves in with Margot and Albinus. Margot is able to convince the maids to never mention anything about Rex to Albinus. Poor Albinus spends the rest of his years being tormented by Margot and Rex. The two play hilarious games with the newly blind Albinus for their own amusement. Soon, the two new lovers ditch Albinus (but not before robbing him blind).

In the climatic scene, Albinus’ former brother-in-law tells him exactly what has happened. When he goes to Margot’s apartment to confront her, she shoots and kills him.

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So what’s all this have to do with Lost? Good question. Most of the time the connections between the books and the show are fairly obvious. Not so much this time around, but I’ll give it my best shot.

I’ll start with the episode that the book appears in. In Flashes Before your Eyes, Desmond is forced to relive his entire past without being able to change anything about it. Eloise reminds him of this when she appears as the salesperson who talks Desmond out of buying an engagement ring for Penny. Desmond resigns himself to the unenviable task of reliving his entire life, completely with his own cowardice and poor decisions. Since the bad in his life outweighed the good…well, that’s rough.

In many ways, Albinus is a similar character. He has vision problems throughout the book. In the first half, he is blinded by the beauty of his young lover; in the second half, he is literally blinded by the car accident. Like Desmond, he is powerless to control anything about his future. Of course Desmond is a far more sympathetic character. Although he made many wrong decisions the first time around (not proposing to Penny at the top of the list), at least he had to realize his mistakes in a second life through no fault of his own.

Albinus, on the other hand, is blind as the result of his own idiocy. When given the opportunity to start anew and right his wrongs, he goes to confront Margot. He gets himself killed as a result of his own vengeful nature.

Then there is the general theme of “cons” that the Lost Book Club does a good job of pointing out. The latter half of the book is dedicated to Rex and Margot’s con over Albinus. Throughout Lost, cons pop up time and time again – Sawyer in The Long Con, Ben conning Sawyer on Hydra Island, the Man in Black attempting to con Richard Alpert in Ab Aeterno, and so on. In all of those situations, a dominant character turned another character’s blindness against him (or her).

Beyond that, who knows. For one of the few times in this series, I’m perplexed.

But never fear…there’s about a 95% chance I’m overthinking things.

For more of my book reviews, return to the Literature of Lost series.

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