David Gates writes an evenhanded, lucid review of The Original of Laura:
But although “The Original of Laura” has, at long last, been properly published — assuming it was proper to publish it at all — there’s not enough of it to be properly reviewed, as Nabokov himself would surely understand. “Not quite finished” with the manuscript? This was a sad understatement, for public consumption. As his biographer Brian Boyd explains, Nabokov would customarily “envisage a novel in his mind complete from start to finish before writing it down” — on 3-by-5 cards, which allowed him to work on any section he wanted to, then place it “in the sequence he had foreseen, among the stack already written” — and, in the case of “Laura,” “a series of accidents and illnesses would keep him from transferring to his index cards more than a patch or two of his bright mental picture.” The 138 cards we have add up to perhaps 45 printed pages of a novel — of who knows what projected length.
Gates also notes that you have the option to create your own Nabokovian novel:
Dmitri Nabokov, Nabokov’s son and literary executor, has provided not just a transcription of his father’s handwritten notecards (complete with grammatical and spelling errors), arranged in sensible, if debatable, order, but facsimiles of the cards themselves, perforated so they can be detached from the book and reordered by scholars who think they know better, or by general readers with time on their hands.
At the end of the day, though, Gates must succumb to the fact that the novel, well, isn’t really a novel, and aside from some small pleasures the book isn’t that great:
Aside from these small, if genuine, pleasures, “The Original of Laura” probably won’t go over any bigger with real-life readers than it did with that dream audience of peacocks, pigeons and parents. In neither case, of course, would its reception be the author’s fault. I’m willing to believe that the real novel — not the one we now see through a glass darkly — was Nabokov’s last-minute masterwork, but I’m in no hurry to see it face to face.
Writing in The Guardian, Martin Amis is a little less kind, and probably a little more accurate:
Nabokov composed The Original of Laura, or what we have of it, against the clock of doom (a series of sickening falls, then hospital infections, then bronchial collapse). It is not “A novel in fragments”, as the cover states; it is immediately recognisable as a longish short story struggling to become a novella. In this palatial edition, every left-hand page is blank, and every right-hand page reproduces Nabokov’s manuscript (with its robust handwriting and fragile spelling – “bycycle”, “stomack”, “suprize”), plus the text in typed print (and infested with square brackets). It is nice, I dare say, to see those world-famous index cards up close; but in truth there is little in Laura that reverberates in the mind.
And while gently dismissing the book in The Wall Street Journal, Alexander Theroux slams Nabokov’s son:
It is no surprise to discover an author in failing health losing his writerly powers. For son Dmitri, there is no such excuse. He claims English to be his “favorite and most flexible means of expression”—Dmitri, you see, is multilingual—but his introduction is nonsensical, snobbish and cruel and reads as if it has been translated from the Albanian. Of his father’s medical treatment: “The tests continued; a succession of doctors rubbed their chins as their bedside manner edged toward the graveside.”
And now they’ve convinced Dmitri to auction off the notecards to the highest bidder. Hope he has fun spending all that money.