Friday, August 26, 2011

Book review: Cleaning Nabokov's House by Leslie Daniels

Cleaning Nabokov’s House by Leslie Daniels

Publisher: Touchstone
Published Date: March 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-9502-4
Pages: 325
Genre: Contemporary Fiction; Women's Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5
Courtesy of:  Crazy Book Tours

Book Summary: Barb Barrett has inadequate skills for relationships. In particular, she cannot follow her husband's instructions. Because of this character ''flaw,'' she falls through the safety net of her lousy marriage, losing custody of her children and her home as she plummets. Guided only by her intense inner life, and a questionable business plan, Barb is determined to reinvent herself. She moves into a house once occupied by the literary genius Vladimir Nabokov, author of the notorious Lolita. She discovers what could be Nabokov's last unpublished manuscript and from there begins a painful yet joyous journey that is deliciously romantic, both darkly comic and wise.

Introducing a dazzling new voice in fiction, Cleaning Nabokov's House will enchant fiction lovers with an accessible and engaging voice they will come to cherish.

My Thoughts: Cleaning Nabokov'e House wasn't the powerful, riveting story about a woman whose marriage fails but she manages to remake her life when she finds Vladimir Nabokov's unpublished manuscript buried in her new rental house I thought it was going to be. I wondered, seriously, what I'd gotten myself into when I read the opening lines:

“I knew I could stay in this town when I found the blue enamel pot floating in the lake. The pot led me to the house, the house led me to the book, the book to the lawyer, the lawyer to the whorehouse, the whorehouse to science, and from science I joined the world.”

I read them several times just to be sure I was reading them correctly. At that point, I almost closed the book for good because a pot, lawyer, whorehouse and science connected in some way that the protagonist then joined the world sounded a little too ridiculous. I don't like judging anything, books, people etc. too quickly, though, so I kept reading. I'm very glad I did. Leslie Daniels' writing is engaging and very funny and her main character and the narrator, Barb Barrett is a wonderfully compelling character.

Barb is a slightly eccentric, fashion-challenged, quirky and lovable woman who was bullied by her husband for most of their loveless marriage. In a more serious book, Barb would be a victim of domestic violence, particularly verbal and psychological abuse. In Leslie Daniels capable hands, Barb's story is less serious, more humorous and Barb's more in control than some victim's of domestic violence. Barb voluntarily walks out on her husband while he's instructing her, for the umpteenth time, on how to properly load the dishwasher. It takes a lot of nerve and courage for Barb to do this. She uses her last bit of gumption to leave the ex-person (her delightful term for her jerk of a former husband!). Actually, Barb takes one more major step that I'm going to save for you to find out!

Ultimately, Barb ends up all alone in the ex-person’s childhood home town, without a job, with very little money and without her children since the ex-person obtained custody of the kids. Her situation is daunting and over-whelming. Barb has to figure out how to show the court she’s a fit parent and come up with a game-plan to get her children back. Ms. Daniel convincingly portrays through Barb how difficult it can be for women in circumstances similar to Barb's: divorced from super-controlling bullies like the ex-person who use their power and connections to keep custody of the children regardless of whether it's in their best interests. Rather than give us a heavy, poignant drama, though, Ms. Daniels gives a light and humorous story with a delightfully funny and entertaining main character in Barb!

Barb is the quirky, sweet and funny woman we'd all love to have as a friend. Right now, thought, she’s in need of a friend but she's alone in a town where she knows no one. She flounders for a while, doubting her ability to go up against the ex-person. In need of support and unsure where to find it, Barb, understandably, throws herself a few pity-parties. She needs to find the confidence she lacks somewhere. Cleaning her daughter's room one day, she discovers a series of index cards that make up a manuscript which appears to be from Vladimir Nabokov, a former resident of Barb's house. Barb's found her source of confidence and we delight in reading as she slowly gets back her strength, sense of humor and her power as a woman and a mom. I enjoyed rooting for Barb every step of the way. There are some times when it feels like she'll never get anywhere and I wanted to shake her or slap her across the face to get her moving! Still, the book doesn't drag at all. Ms. Daniels writing is too good for that and Barb too engaging. She’s willing to take risks, doesn’t care if she makes a fool out of herself and she isn’t shy about sex. Not too mention, the snide, snarky remarks she mutters especially about the ex-person, are hilarious! And once Barb finally comes up with a plan nothing and no one can stand in her way!

Several of the supporting characters are similarly engaging and its obvious Ms. Daniels has a talent for creating unique, slightly off-beat and charming characters. They all have their quirks which endear them to us even more and their stories provide enchanting reading and give us a interesting vision of life in small-town Onkwedo. Although it initially took me a few pages to get drawn into Barb’s story, once her charm hooked me, the pages flew by. Barb is such a genuine, honest and direct person that it often feels as if she’s speaking with us directly. She shares her innermost thoughts and feelings with us as the narrative progresses making us feel like we know her personally. As a result, I became intensely invested in the outcome of Barb's story. It no longer mattered to me how nutty or unrealistic her game-plan was, I just wanted it to work for her.

Ms. Daniels excels at drawing readers into Barb's story with engaging writing, a compelling protagonist and an entertaining, enchanting story that is funny and compelling. To fully accept the story-line you will have to suspend your belief in reality for a bit and just go along with Barb's game plan, something I wasn't sure I could do but it turned out to be easy since I was already invested in the story. I was as surprised as anyone that I became so absorbed by this story but at some point while reading, I suddenly found myself cheering for Barb. I was fervently hoping for her to get custody of her adorable as well as quirky kids, whatever it took (almost!) and to beat the stuffy, boring, self-righteous ex-person at his own game...and possibly find a better man along the way. I read this book mainly at night after long, tiring days when this lighter, funny, enchanting and sometimes silly story was a delight with which to end the day. If you enjoy wacky characters with personality and a sense of humor and a funny, sometimes realistic, sometimes and well-written story I highly recommend Cleaning Nabokov's House.

Check out Leslie Daniel's website

Thank you to Crazy Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Cleaning Nabokov's House


  1. I admit that just reading that opening sentence had me wondering just what was going on, but I am glad that you stuck with it and saw that it was a good read. I have been sort of curious about this book since first reading about it, and I am honestly not sure it's for me, but your review has got me thinking, and now I am sort of on the fence! Great thoughts on this one. It sounds kind of interesting!

  2. I love wacky characters! I had no idea this book has a humorous bent to it. It sounds good and I love the cover!

  3. Your review has me really intrigued by this one!

  4. Sounds like an interesting book.

    Hope you stay safe during the hurricane.

  5. I do love unconventional characters, so I might try this one sometime.

    Stay safe Sunday Amy.

  6. I would have thought too that this was going to be a much more serious read...I love the way you describe the tone of the book -- and how nice that your perserverance paid off with a read that you enjoyed so much. That's always such a nice surprise when it happens.

  7. You pretty much said what i could not effectively communicate. +1

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  8. Glad you stuck it out and found it worthwhile. I am just in love with the book cover.

  9. I almost picked this up at Borders yesterday based on the cover alone but I reisisted. I'll pick it up if it's still there next ti,e!