Despair, by Vladimir Nabokov

Schadenfreude–pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune. Nabokov, I am coming to find, is the master of this.

The key to it, is to not identify too much with the person experiencing the misfortune, otherwise it becomes uncomfortable, cringy, awkward… but this, is not. You find yourself laughing with the most perfect satisfaction.

And I want more!

Good thing he has many novels left for me to read…

Mystery on the side

I’m listening to another Nabokov novel, and no surprise, it’s great. This one is about a struggling businessman who also seems a bit mentally unstable, running across a vagrant who happens to look exactly like him.

The instant he sees this face, a plan sparks in his mind. You can tell, but, you don’t know what that plan is… and that is the mystery. Not how he is going to do something (he’s going to do it by using a look-alike in some way) but what he is going to do.

Since it’s Nabokov, I automatically suspect that this guy is way less smart than he thinks he is, and also that there is a lot going on between the lines. I’ve not yet discovered much, but it is fun searching for it.

Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov

This is the epitome of genius. Nabokov must have some kind of freak literary gene that makes him so good with words. This is one of the few books I’ve wanted to start reading again the moment I reached the end. (I think Lolita was another…)

On the surface, Pale fire is a 999 line poem book-ended by an introduction and commentary by it’s editor and publisher. But between the lines, it is a hilarious journey into the mind of a delusional narcissist.

It’s hard to say much about this book other than it is brilliant, subtle, and such a wondrous feat that I sometimes wonder if Nabokov was not a plain old mortal human like the rest of us, but instead an incarnation of writing itself.

I feel lucky to be alive in a time when this book exists. Read it!

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

I am left wondering, about how the world perceives this book. This was not an erotic or romantic read. I can’t think of any point a that I would describe as even slightly arousing. It is the story of a child rapist, who abducts and repeatedly assaults a child over the course of nearly three years.

How does this book have the reputation of being sexy? Of being erotic and romantic? The language is romantic, yes, and some may find the idea of being obsessed over in such a way romantic, but the slightest look beyond these surface details should clearly show the dark interior.

Regardless of the weird way people seem to perceive it, the story was amazing, and concluded perfectly–though not in a way I expected.

In another great case of show don’t tell, the ‘villain’ (from Humbert’s point of view) had me completely stumped, until the reveal–which wasn’t really a reveal at all, but more of a reminder of a couple of the hints and clues.

The ending –spoilers–is great because it is so easy for Clare to confuse and elude Humbert, despite how smart he seems to think he is, and in the end, fittingly, Humbert is reduced to violence–the last refuge of the incompetent.

Lyrical, dark, unsettling, beautiful. I wonder if Nabokov’s other works are this amazing, because if so I want to read all of them.

 

Predator in pathetic guise

I’m a bit more than halfway through Lolita, and am beginning to feel disturbed and disgusted. A slow, sickening feeling has been building for a while, and finally made me realize that Humbert is not a pathetic loser, but a cold predator.

He is telling his story with the object of gaining sympathy. To do this he paints himself as a helpless freak, who knows what he’s doing is gross but can’t help himself. He tries to show how good his intentions are, how much of a sap he is for Lolita, how she has such power over him to make him want to do these things. But in reality he is manipulating and using her as an object purely for his own pleasure.

Little things, little hints, show this to be true.

From the start of the story he tries to show that Lolita has only captured him so because she reminds him of a lost love he had with a girl her age, when he was that age also. It is only her (that lost girl from his past), specifically that does this to him, she is special–a psychological longing for an incomplete romance–and when he sees Lolita she reminds him so much of that girl from his past that he has to be near her, in any way he can. It is possible, dear reader, to be sympathetic with these feelings.

However, as the story progresses we find that Humbert, despite his insistence of Lolita’s singularity, is attracted to–and leers unabashedly at!–every girl-child that crosses his path. Clearly, this is not a one-time occasion for him, as he would have us think.

Humbert claims to care for Lolita, to love her, to want only to please her and make her happy. Yet, when her mother is killed in an accident his first thought is to lie to her about it in order to keep her in a better mood. Not for her own sake, but so he doesn’t have to stop enjoying her presence.

There are so many other instances, subtle phrases or points of view–too many to list, and I’m sure many I haven’t noticed–that show Humbert’s monstrosity. It is fascinating and disgusting at once.

This book is so finely crafted and subtle, despite its blunt subject material, that I imagine I’ll be thinking about it for years to come.

The Crimson Petal and the White, by Michel Faber

What can I say about this book? It was a journey, an adventure, an endeavor. I loved every page of it and was left aching, (I swear I felt a physical ache) for more at the end.

Every time I read one of Faber’s novels, I say his characters are what make it. And this is no exception. But this one also has the benefit of consistently beautiful prose that paints an amazingly vivid picture of not just the characters, but everything–down to the last buttered scone or piss-stained cobblestone.

This book could have gone on another 900 pages and I would have just kept reading and reading. It could have gone on forever.

Read it!

 

Reading vs performing

Jeremy Irons’ reading of Lolita is really good. I wish more audiobooks would have actors as the narrator, because he is doing way more than just reading the text. It’s a performance.

Tone is so important, timing, enunciation–all these things can change the meaning of something so drastically.  I would be very picky about how my novel were read, if I had any choice in the matter (not likely).