As i get the sad, paranoid feeling that approximately one person other than me reads this (hi mum!), it doesn't matter what i write here, and since i'm feeling lazy too, no-one's going to be disappointed if i select some choice quotes from 'Lolita', passively enjoy them, and leave it at that. If anyone genuinely was looking forward to some robust monologue, there'll be some when it comes to current Dusty book '...Oscar Wao'. Cos i have a shit-ton to say about that firecracker. Or Nina can find her essay. It's never too late for an English degree to be useful.
Nabokov is amazing. After his native Russian, English was his second language, and his grasp of it is (insert preferred superlative, i'm all out of interesting ones). In a note on 'Lolita', he said he wrote the novel as a 'record of his love affair with the English language'. (Although he then said English is apparently 'second-rate' compared to the 'infinitely docile Russian tongue' - cheers mate!), but - my god - what a great reason to write a novel, just to play around with nice words. And what a novel to choose to write!
I can't be bothered to discuss sympathy or otherwise for Humbert 'Jeremy Irons' Humbert. The tragedy at the heart of 'Lolita' is its blinding central conceit, and it's devastatingly clear that HH is a child rapist – although Lolita initially seduced him, fairly soon after she was desperate to get out of his clutches and he kept her with him, raping her, occasionally paying her for it (ie. using her as a whore) for two years (the second half of the novel). I find it utterly baffling that anyone could see him as sympathetic...though obviously one of Nabokov's tricks is to have us understand, on one level, that HH cannot help himself - he's just too much of a romantic to resist his 'schoolgirl nymphet'. And it's like he has this big modus operandi only he has the guts to deal with...as he says - 'i am not concerned with so-called "sex" at all. Anybody can imagine those elements of animality. A greater endeavour lures me on: to fix once for all the perilous magic of nymphets'.
Hmm. I was bored on a plane journey recently, and needed to do something intellectually stimulating to mitigate the fact I'd just enjoyed and cried (a lot) at 'He's Just Not That Into You' and 'Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2' (which, by the way, is awesome) - and 'Lolita' was the only book I had, and since I'd already read it 1.5 times at that stage, I decided to make a close examination of the language used in their sexual conduct, in order to try to ascertain the levels of self-deception and reader manipulation going on in our narrator. I came to the definitive conclusion that there are numerous instances of rape reported by Humbert Humbert as acts of love. I didn't pick up on them on first reading, but it was a bleak exercise -they're there. I do wonder how much the light, vivid tone causes readers not to see clearly quite the level of cruelty that's played out through the entirety of the novel.
p.185: 'I would lead my reluctant pet to our small home to a quick connection before dinner'.
Quick connection, eh? There's tons of these. The closer you read, the darker it gets.
Anyway, whatever. Got no desire to continue the epic show of pedantry...the point was meant to be that if anyone is actually reading this and hasn't read 'Lolita', read it. As dark as it is, its also hilarious and somehow, incomparably beautiful. Don't limp out and see the film instead - the Adrian Lyne version of the film was so diluted and lacking in comparison it made me remember, cos i sometimes forget, why books will always be superior to films (although I haven't seen the Kubrick version nor the Nabokov script for the Kubrick version, but c'mon!). So lets scamper onwards from the grimness of HH and look at writing instead. Nabokov is the best writer ever. Discuss. Well, in lieu of quoting the whole damn perfect novel, here's my favourite bit, which, in sheer writing terms, is genius:
(It's Humbert describing Lolita playing tennis, p.263 in the Penguin Red Classic edition)
'She would wait and relax for a bar or two of white-lined time before going into the act of serving, and often bounced the ball once or twice, or pawed the ground a little, always at ease, always rather vague about the score, always cheerful as she so seldom was in the dark life she led at home. Her tennis was the highest point to which I can imagine a young creature bringing the art of make-believe, although I daresay, for her it was the very geometry of reality.
The exquisite clarity of all her movements had its auditory counterpart in the pure ringing sound of her every stroke. The ball when it entered her aura of control became somehow whiter, its resilience somehow richer, and the instrument of precision she used upon it seemed inordinately prehensile and deliberate at the moment of clinging contact. Her form was, indeed, an absolutely perfect imitation of absolutely top-notch tennis - without any utilitarian results. As Edusa's sister, Electra Gold, a marvelous young coach, said to me once while I sat on a pulsating hard bench watching Dolores Haze toying with Linda Hall (and being beaten by her): "Dolly has a magnet in the center of her racket guts, but why the heck is she so polite?" Ah, Electra, what did it matter, with such grace! I remember at the very first game I watched being drenched with an almost painful convulsion of beauty assimilation. My Lolita had a way of raising her bent left knee at the ample and springy start of the service cycle when there would develop and hang in the sun for a second a vital web of balance between toed foot, pristine armpit, burnished arm and far back-flung racket, as she smiled up with gleaming teeth at the small globe suspended so high in the zenith of the powerful and graceful cosmos she had created for the express purpose of falling upon it with a clean resounding crack of her golden whip.'
Wow. Especially 'hang in the sun for a second a vital web of balance between toed foot, pristine armpit, burnished arm...' So beautiful. But this is one random sentence (albeit from an exceptional paragraph) out of hundreds as equally good in 'Lolita' - the imagery's so vibrant and different and yet still obvious - look at a gorgeous young girl playing tennis - she's not just 'hot', she's gleaming, pristine, burnished, capable of creating her own mini-cosmos. Understanding you can see all that in a simple tennis serve helps me to see the world (yeah, and tennis) more richly. That's what the whole of 'Lolita' is like; fracturing into prismatic brilliance what would be in most other hands another motherfucking mundane view of reality. The scene in the hotel when Humbert gives Lolita the sleeping pill, then, 'somewhere behind the raging bliss, bewildered shadows conferred' (which is my favourite sentence in the whole novel), as he figures out how to get it on with her, having realised the pill ain't that strong, and worrying she's going to wake up cos of the gurgle of the 'manly, energetic, deep-throated toilet', is both poetic heaven AND comedy gold. And when Humbert trips over some chairs and calls them 'incarnadine zebras!' Awesome!
Also, it's kind of frowned upon by the grim masters of domestic realism to use adverbs in fiction, but Nabokov's poetry flows so well that you don't trip over, or find excessive, his use of 'inordinately', 'absolutely', 'infinitely', etc, which would be excoriated in the hands of a lesser poet. Which just goes to show...something.
Perfectly timed is this mid-1950's interview with Nabokov on NBC, from Monday's Boing Boing.
His accent rocks!
Anyway, enough. i guess it made me realise why i'm such a word slut...when they're used well together, you get comedy and controversy, poetry and beauty, motel paeans and roadside thrills...they're the architecture of other worlds. Pretty cool.