The Pequod Review:
Published in 1938, Despair is one of Vladimir Nabokov’s most successful early Russian novels. The book is structured as the memoir of a Russian-German factory owner (Hermann Karlovich) who kills a homeless man whom he believes bears a strong resemblance to him, so as to be able to fake his own death and collect the insurance proceeds. When Hermann’s plan unravels, the depth of his self-delusion, paranoia and narcissism become apparent. Despair is structurally inventive and full of witty prose, but Hermann’s motives are not always clear or persuasive, and the overall book doesn’t achieve the power of Nabokov’s later masterpieces.