Listen free for 30 days

Pick 1 audiobook a month from our unmatched collection - including bestsellers and new releases.
Listen all you want to thousands of included audiobooks, Originals, celeb exclusives, and podcasts.
Access exclusive sales and deals.
£7.99/month after 30 days. Renews automatically. See here for eligibility.
Speak Memory cover art

Speak Memory

By: Vladimir Nabokov
Narrated by: Stefan Rudnicki
Try for £0.00

£7.99/month after 30 days. Renews automatically. See here for eligibility.

Buy Now for £19.99

Buy Now for £19.99

Pay using card ending in
By completing your purchase, you agree to Audible's Conditions of Use and authorise Audible to charge your designated card or any other card on file. Please see our Privacy Notice, Cookies Notice and Interest-based Ads Notice.

Listeners also enjoyed...

Pale Fire cover art
Look at the Harlequins! cover art
Glory cover art
Invitation to a Beheading cover art
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight cover art
The Man Without Qualities cover art
James Joyce cover art
The Art of Memoir cover art
The Magic Mountain cover art
A Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement cover art
The Lemon Table cover art
Paris in the Present Tense cover art
A Moveable Feast cover art
Anna Karenina cover art
War and Peace cover art
The Emigrants: Ambros Adelwarth (Dramatised) cover art

Summary

From one of the 20th century's great writers comes one of the finest autobiographies of our time. Speak, Memory, first published in 1951 as Conclusive Evidence and then assiduously revised in 1966, is an elegant and rich evocation of Nabokov’s life and times, even as it offers incisive insights into his major works, including Lolita, Pnin, Despair, The Gift, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, and The Luhzin Defense

One of the 20th century’s master prose stylists, Vladimir Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg in 1899. He studied French and Russian literature at Trinity College, Cambridge, then lived in Berlin and Paris, where he launched a brilliant literary career. In 1940 he moved to the United States, and achieved renown as a novelist, poet, critic, and translator. He taught literature at Wellesley, Stanford, Cornell, and Harvard. In 1961 he moved to Montreux, Switzerland, where he died in 1977.

©1947, 1951, 1967 Vladimir Nabokov (P)2010 Audible, Inc

Critic reviews

"Beguiling and superbly produced, this bittersweet rendition will appeal to lovers of Nabokov and those experiencing their first taste." (AudioFile)

What listeners say about Speak Memory

Average customer ratings
Overall
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    34
  • 4 Stars
    19
  • 3 Stars
    14
  • 2 Stars
    3
  • 1 Stars
    2
Performance
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    27
  • 4 Stars
    17
  • 3 Stars
    9
  • 2 Stars
    3
  • 1 Stars
    2
Story
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    25
  • 4 Stars
    16
  • 3 Stars
    11
  • 2 Stars
    2
  • 1 Stars
    3

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Great!

Speak Memory is the first book of Nabokov's that I've read (listened to, that is) and I must say I'm not disappointed. Wonderfully written, Nabokov is The Lord of the perfect adjective. The words come sprinkling down like a light, summer shower, each drop filled with solar irredescence. A joy to listen to.

My only reserve would be that the narrator can sometimes sound a tad monotonous, but this is rescued by the sheer quality of the writing.

Something went wrong. Please try again in a few minutes.

You voted on this review!

You reported this review!

13 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A masterpiece ruined by the reader

Beautifully written. Nabokov is a prose stylist supreme. Reader wrecked it. Grating harsh voice.

Something went wrong. Please try again in a few minutes.

You voted on this review!

You reported this review!

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Fascintating memoir of a different time

Speak memory by Vladimir Nabikov is an autobiographical book that tells some of the story of the writer and author of ‘Lolita’ amongst other books and the bit that always drew me to this book is that it has one of the best opening line of any book I've ever read:
- “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for.(at some 4500 heartbeats an hour)... Nature expects a full grown man to accept the two black voids, for and aft, as stolidly as he accepts the extraordinary visions in between. imagination, the supreme delight of the immortal and the immature, should be limited. .In order to enjoy life, we should not enjoy it too much.”
- What a life Vladimir Nabokov the writer led, and he describes his life beautifully. Its as if Anton Chekhov ever wrote a biography on someone else, it very much feels like this is the book he would write. The first part of the book describes so many characters who were relations and family members in the past before going into descriptions of Nabokov‘s childhood, stories about his father, including one of a duel which I wont say how it ends.
- Then he describes his friendships and his first love Tatiana. The way Nabikov writes, with sometimes very descriptive prose, is a joy to read or listen to. With perhaps the one exception of his obsession with butterflies which I might have even skipped a bit of. And of course his life has as its backdrop the First World War, Russia, the rise of the Bolsheviks and then the Dawn of the new Soviet Russia before embarking on a journey to Europe and England.
- There is a line about how a scientist sees everything that happens in one point of space, the poet feels everything that happens in one point of time - which I loved.
I love the wonderful aspects when describing his past events by stating ‘speak memory’ (what a great title for an autobiography) and then describing how the events of the past are reflected by his older self.
- Nabakov tells detailed stories in a certain moment of time that will often end with a short description of what happened to them eventually, whether it be the fate of a maid, a tutor or the fate of his father. A really interesting person and book. It only tells his early life and nothing much of his writing and much of it is culled from some of his short stories.

Something went wrong. Please try again in a few minutes.

You voted on this review!

You reported this review!

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Narrative can drag, descriptive passages excellent. Self indulgent but beautifully written.

As title suggests, writing is wonderfully Nabokovian, inventive, acrobatic and wonderfully innovative prose. The narration is unremarkable: it is precise and well suited to the source material, but feels perfunctory. This title is a must listen for Nabokov fanatics but a hard slog and some parts felt like a hard slog. Better to spend an Audible credit on Pale Fire, Pnin or Lolita than this.

Something went wrong. Please try again in a few minutes.

You voted on this review!

You reported this review!

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

Ugh

I came to this book like a lamb to the slaughter. I knew nothing of Nabokov the man. I had read Lolita and enjoyed it, and had been plagued ever since by the algorithm putting this title fair square and centre in my recommendations. Eventually, I weakened and bought it, thinking that this (incomplete - it only goes up to 1940. He planned to publish a second volume to cover 1941 to 1960) autobiography would help me to decide what else of his to read. Answer: nothing, ever again.

Is this man arrogant or what?! A Google search reveals that I must have been the only person alive who didn’t know it. More fool me. Perhaps the front cover should carry some sort of advisory warning for people who might be triggered by reading upper class invective against the working classes.

Having spent the first half of the book reading Nabokov’s attacks on the personal characteristics of his childhood servants (governesses, nurses, tutors, footmen etc) I decided to pause and try and find the true story of this man before continuing (‘Nabokov and his Books’ by Duncan White is quite helpful in this regard). In doing so, I discovered that Speak Memory is a collection of previously published autobiographical essays covering short periods of his life. Ie rather than keep a diary he wrote about his life as he went along, assured that publishers would pay and print (which they did). And, as his early life was marked by privilege, that is what readers got.
Though children can be cruel, and none more so than Nabokov, I was struck by the fact that his mean spiritedness extended into adult life. Eg resentments he held against servants when he was a child (including in one excruciating chapter, the fact that a servant was fat) were still being pursued unapologetically up to twenty years later. He also recalls an unexpected meeting in adulthood with a former governess where she politely tried to laugh off how badly he had treated her, but he wouldn’t let her salvage any pride in this way and instead doubled down on the insults (before multiplying them a thousand-fold in print).

There is also too much racism in the book for me, including inferring that the mass rape of the Red Army in occupied Germany at the end of the war was perpetrated by its non-Slavic elements (watching young women playing in a park in Berlin in 1940 he laments that in 1946 they will be giving birth to children with Mongol and Turkic blood). This lie mirrors the recent claims made by Putin for the systematic rape of women and children in Ukraine by his army.

Does that fact that someone was dreadful mean you should mark down their autobiography? Not necessarily, but as Duncan White points out, Nabokov’s non-fiction writings (letters to editors, reviews, essays, etc) were all designed “to shape his legacy once he had become wealthy, successful, and a literary celebrity. It shows how he sought to control not only his books but also the authorial persona he projected in interviews and forewords. Nabokov was profoundly concerned with his literary posterity… He also collaborated with scholars of his work to help shape the way he would be read by future readers.” Indeed.
Not recommended.

Something went wrong. Please try again in a few minutes.

You voted on this review!

You reported this review!