Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Relief & Regret

Title: Lolita
Author: Vladamir Nabokov

ISBN: 0679723161
# of Pages: 309

Published: Originally 1955 - Paris; 50th Anniversary Edition ~ Vintage, 1997

Began Reading: October 11th, 2006
Finished Reading: October 15th 2006

When P. was reading off her list of choices for our November Book Club Meet, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov was last. But it was the only one that all the members wanted to read for no other reason then it had been on all our 'Meaning to Get to It' lists for such a long time and now it seemed like it could actually get crossed off! M., in her book snobbery, became elated with the news. The McGill gals felt that if it wasn't on their syllabus now, it would be in the near future. And I, always one to enjoy a good book-movie analysis was looking forward to the read. Thats how Lolita fell into my hands when it did. Ever since I've experienced a complex oil-meets-water response to the book, of relief and regret.

The Story: Our narrator is the sinister and playful Humbert Humbert who tells the tale of his life's obsession and the murder he later commits. The story ingeniously begins with a psychiatrist introducing the work as a madman's confession, being published for morally instructive reasons. During a brief acount of his past, HH tells of the passionate, unfulfilled love he shared with a girl while still a child himself, and in doing so, traces his obsession back to its innocent roots. After an unsuccessful marriage, the European HH moves to America and begins to teach literature classes. Finding a home for room and board he enters the Haze household, which consists of Mrs. Haze, the widow seeking companionship, the housekeeper & Dolores, Mrs. Haze's young daughter and the nymphet that HH begins to call "my Lolita". From here we are taken into the complex web of HH's love affair--"Look at this tangle of thorns"--that goes from the metaphysical to the bedroom with the pre-pubescent girl. Here we discover the sick power that is tied up with 'love' & obsession, and we see with unwilling eyes the destruction done to the girl caught there.

Comments: Nabokov's grasp of the English language is incredible--it's his eloquence and humour and detailed observations that hold the reader in raptures while the story tells of ugliness and pain. However there isn't much story... the plot is slow to say the least. But Humbert Humbert's character is so disturbing, in part, because he is so playful and engaging. During Part 1, it was difficult to forget that he was a pedophile--his sexual descriptions are great, but what is greater are his loving and terrifying descriptions of a "honey-hued shoulder," or "the blond down of her brown limbs". When the novel ends, you are left with a bad aftertaste in your mouth from moral disgust, but the beautiful words, the quick wit will also remain with you. The narrative is framed as a police statement, and therefore our whole reading of the story is immediately tainted with suspicions, but this initial critical feeling is necessary as HH begins to mesmerize us with his story, and while we still feel revulsion, we also feel sympathy

Best Part: "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta." page 9

Worst Part: The end of Part 1 (there are 2 parts to the whole book) where Lolita after discovering that her mother has died must continue the affair she is having to survive. 'After all, she has no where else to go.'

Recommend to: Nobody really. I had nightmares 3 or 5 times! All sexually intense and it made me feel rather dirty, in fact. It was really, really HEAVY to read this. But the language is so beautiful, intense, clear, eloquent, etc. (the list goes on) that it may be worth all the trouble. So i suppose I would recommend this book to people who love language, the dubious memoirs of madmen and terrific, unforgiving humour.

Cool Facts: "EGL or Gothic Lolita for short, is a Japanese teen or young adult who dresses in amazingly elaborate Gothic looking babydoll costumes. On the weekends these women walk the streets of Tokyo and Osaka and fill Yoyogi Park and Harajuku neighborhood where they pose for tourist’s pictures and sit around looking pretty. They are beautiful, glamorous, doll-like" See the article for more information. You can even check out their magazine, 'Gothic & Lolita Bible'.

The Movie: My Book Club saw the Jeremy Irons version. Though M. was not so enthusiastic about it (with reason for it wasn't such a good film) because "jeremy irons' portrayal of HH was too serious with no trace of the book's disturbing humour and fun"--there were two aspects that made it worth the time & money for me. 1) J. Irons' looks and acting conformed perfectly to the complex emotions we have while reading the text with HH. He is handsome, refined, and articulate and it is difficult to believe that this same individual is such a monster. 2) There is a scene of Lolita in the apartment in which she and HH finally come to stay after their first cross-America road trip. The scene starts off with her carelessly sprawled across the love seat and ends with her yelling, "Kill me then. Why don't you just kill me." And running out. It is the only time, I must confess, that I felt sorry for her. The book Lolita doesn't allow room to sympathize with the brat that HH portrays & the film allows an opportunity for moments of lesser narrative bias.

The Issue at Hand: The big debate, at our Book Club Meeting at least, was the relativism of his crime. If he was in another country other than America during his time or if they had been married in the Catholic church, then it would have been legal. It would have been 'fine'. The possibility that Nabokov is criticizing North American law seems dim... Is it the idea of power? Is it less about who HH is fucking and more about how he manipulates the opportunities Fate presents to him at the sacrifice of another? Is Nabokov simply delighting in abusing his artistic powers and telling us a story that is aesthetically beautiful but morally repulsive? Or is it about a madman, the way in which he depicts a bent knee or "the gooseberry fuzz" of a leg, or the power and the dangers of narrative?

Many thank to M - who helped spice this entry up. For the Love of VN of course ~


Bookfool said...

Several people in one of my groups read Lolita, last year, and the word they kept using repeatedly was "disturbing". Meanwhile, I read some of his short stories and was blown away - they were fabulous. But, when I picked up Lolita, I just wasn't in the mood for more Nabokov and I suppose that word was hanging over my head: "disburbing, disturbing". Sounds like you felt the same, so I'll be careful to choose the right moment - between light reads!

Nessie said...

Have a 'desert book' as I like to call it - close by. A good romance or a children's book after could do the trick. The fact is the language is so GREAT that its worth the 'pain'. M is a big reader of Vladamir, has read all his books and says that none are like Lolita. It is I would say equivalent to Nietzche's Dyonisiac.