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Cleaning Nabokov's House

Cleaning Nabokov's House

A Novel

  • reading group guide
“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.”

So begins Leslie Daniels’s funny and moving novel about a woman’s desperate attempt to rebuild her life. When Barb Barrett walks out on her loveless marriage she doesn’t realize she will lose everything: her home, her financial security, even her beloved children. Approaching forty with her life in shambles and no family or friends to turn to, Barb must now discover what it means to rely on herself in a stark new emotional landscape.

Guided only by her intense inner voice and a unique entrepreneurial vision, Barb begins to collect the scattered pieces of her life. She moves into a house once occupied by Vladimir Nabokov, author of the controversial masterpiece Lolita, and discovers a manuscript that may be his lost work. As her journey gathers momentum, Barb deepens a connection with her new world, discovering resources in her community and in herself that no one had anticipated. Written in elegant prose with touches of sharp humor and wit, Cleaning Nabokov’s House offers a new vision of modern love and a fervent reminder that it is never too late to find faith in our truest selves.
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  • Touchstone | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439195048 | 
  • March 2011
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Cleaning Nabokov's House includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Leslie Daniels. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


The last straw was the dishwasher. After a decade of marriage, Barbara walks out on her husband, John, while he instructs her on the proper method of loading cups and bowls. A newcomer to John’s sleepy hometown in upstate New York, and now a divorcée, Barb feels out of place. John takes custody of their children (the judge is his friend), and Barb gets just one weekend a month of visitation (the social worker is John’s new girlfriend). Lonely, depressed, and down to her last pair of pants, Barb spends her last bit of savings on a new house—a house where Vladimir Nabokov once lived and wrote. When Barb discovers an abandoned manuscript in the house, her life takes on new purpose. Opening a “cathouse” that serves passion-starved local women is Barb’s remarkable first step to respectability. Client by client and word by word, Barb reclaims her life and prepares for the chance to win back the custody of her children.


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