Friday, December 21, 2007

Brief Response Upon Finishing Lolita

I finished Lolita over the weekend. I alternated between reading the book and watching the accompanying scenes from Adrian Lyne’s filmic version (which is 100% true to the book, but only as far as the events go—the characterization is completely wrong, but that’s another story). The book bowled me over so hard, I think I’m still recovering.

The best way I think I can describe is that Nabokov took me on a three-tiered, or three threaded, journey through the book. The first thread was the actual story as it unfolded linearly—how the characters experience the story. The second thread was the writing style/narrative—how the author experiences the story. The third thread was the way I felt about the narrator, Humbert Humbert, and the book at large—how I experience the story. All three of these met in a synergistic yarn which caused the three elements/entities (characters, authors, reader) to be interconnected in such as way as to make the existence of each impossible without the existence of the others.

Throughout “Part One,” I was absolutely entranced and delighted by the writing and, much to my chagrin and confusion, felt just as charmed by the pedophile Humbert Humbert himself. The book takes a sharp turn at Part Two. This was an interesting and ingenious division for the book: the change from Part One to Part Two is that Lolita finds out that her mother is dead. Charlotte actually has been dead for quite some book-time. Both the reader and Humbert know the mother is and has been dead. Only Lolita didn’t know, and when she finds out, everything changes.

“Part Two” begins the slow decline of the regard in which Humbert is held by Lolita, by Nabokov, and by the reader. His charm and wit have worn thin with his self-awareness and, later, his inability to deprive himself of self gratification. Confidence has become smarm, which soon gives way to patheticalness. The writing seems to become long-winded and cloying. I don’t fault Nabokov for this, as some reviewers have. Rather, the culprit is Humbert’s increasingly desperate attempts at justification for his actions that plays out via the narrative. I began to hate him, began to hate what he had to say, began to hate his every action, and in turn began to hate the book and the writing itself—but I was so mired in the story that I could not put it down. Likewise, Lolita was mired in her own situation that she could not escape. Even when she thought she did escape, she just got into another situation that was equally unhealthy for her. She never really escaped at all until her death (which we learn about at the beginning of the book, but actually occurs after the book is over: she dies in childbirth). The reader gets to escape the misery of the story at the same time both the characters do; but only death is a strong enough reprieve from the torment they’ve been subjected to by the hand of McFate and by their own designs.

As I stated earlier, I felt immensely uncomfortable and confused at how much I was enjoying reading this book about a “nympholectic” pedophile. It made me feel dirty, decadent, and debased. But the way I felt throughout the end of the book completely reconciled my emotive response to where it “should” have been through the incredible feat of making me strongly desire to read a book I was, at points, loathing.

There’s so much to say about this incredible book, but I haven’t fully been able to wrap my brain around it all. I just wanted to write a few words about my response as a writer. What I’m taking from this is how your narrative design can affect the interconnectedness of character/author/reader—and the tremendous effect that interconnectedness can have. I’ve also learned about creating unreliable narrators, and the power of both sides of that coin: when the unreliability is only hinted at, or unknown completely, and when the unreliability is undeniable and almost excruciating to the reader. Nabokov used that tool to effectively manipulate his readers emotive responses as if he were creating the responses himself.

I love when you finish a book and you feel like you have “traveled” – through time, through space, and through that intangible journey that is experience.

Read it.

1 comment:

qkslvrwolf said...

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