If Nabokov wrote about paint drying, I would still read it. I’ve read a lot of his books, and after stumbling across this one in a shop, added this to the collection:
Albinus, a wealthy artist is a married man with a young child. Arriving in town for a meeting one morning, he notices he is early, and so goes into a cinema to kill some time. Whilst in there, he notices a young, pretty usherette, and becomes obsessed with visiting the cinema to see her.
Eventually, a semi-abusive relationship develops, with Margot, the young usherette, abusing Albunis’ feelings towards her for financial gain, and the possibility of using his influence for her to become an actress.
When tragedy ensues, Albinus is pressed between moral and emotional pressures.
The title becomes so much darker once the book is finished, and you notice what the ‘laughter in the dark’ is laughter at. Albinus was the only semi-nice character in the book, and considering he cheated on his wife for the sake of the thrill, that is saying something.
The characters are all well written, and each unique in so many aspects. Much like Nabokov’s other novels, fairly common human characteristics become all too focused on for anyone to feel comfortable when carrying them out (or, has a hypocritical cynic like myself saying ‘yeh, exactly! People are stupid’).
The shortness of the book and typical style of prose make it well worth the read, though perhaps not as an introduction to Nabokov. The characters are well written and very stylized, and usually mundane situations become poetry when Nabokov describes them.