Adrienne Celt’s Invitation to a Bonfire encashes on the controversial Nabokov Marriage, a subject that hasn’t seen enough light. The writing style is very Nabokovian and this story unfolds through letters, journal entries and some other accounts that reveal an emotional backdrop that this story rises from. Celt’s unusual and lyrical writing style with a prose full of beautiful sentences makes Invitation to a Bonfire, a fun, and suspense-filled joyride.
Invitation To a Bonfire is set in the 1920s with Zoya narrating the accounts. Zoya is an orphan refugee from USSR with many like her inhibiting New Jersey. She ends up at an all-girls boarding school where she’s bullied and treated as an outcast by the wealthy girls that attend the school. After graduating, Zoya takes up the responsibility of managing the greenhouse at Donne. The feeling of being an outcast buried deep, Zoya is thrilled to meet Leo Orlov during her stay here. The renowned author is at Donne as a lecturer with his wife. She finds him more attractive since he is of Russian origin, same as her and finds her years of admiration taking the form of love for the author.
Leo Orlov is a name used for Nabokov’s character. In the book, he is married to Vera, a woman who controls his career and life. Leo Orlov continues his flirtatious flings with his female students while he is at Donne and sensing Zoya’s feelings, he engages in a romantic affair with her. However, Zoya finds out about it through gossip among the girls of Donne. Having been naive about it once, she realizes Nabokov’s incredulity will someday get the better of his art.
Vera, Orlov’s wife, is aware of the many character flaws of her husband and of his many mistresses but for the greater good of a man she considers to be a genius, she ignores his inadequacies. In real life, Vera Nabokov was known to accompany Vladimir for his lectures as his assistant. Nabokov was known to be an adulterous man with many extramarital affairs. Vera remains a background figure until she meets Zoya face to face. The story then becomes much more tumultuous post their meeting. Using her sexual prowess over Leo and Leo’s over Zoya, the Orlov’s ask Zoya to commit an act that can forever reflect upon her as a crime. Lovelorn and too young to decipher the reality behind this demand, Vera indulges the Orlovs.
Invitation to a Bonfire examines obsession is love and the high ideals we hold of our artists in the light of Vladimir Nabokov’s character. The novel is filled with cleverly plotted events knitting a love triangle like no other. Celt has given each character a very strong voice in this book, be it through letters or journal entries. Zoya’s accounts are descriptive and articulate while Leo’s letters have an element of feigning false affection. The book ends at a rather surprising note, leaving the readers with a lot to process in terms of what becomes of the ideals we hold of people we admire.
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