Monday, July 10, 2006

Editor's Note: Take IX

How does one read past the first thirty pages of Lolita? I'm far from a prude - oh, if only you knew - but I cannot seem to get the ideas of child molestation out of my head. Enlighten me, wise ones. This is my fifth attempt.


Goodies from the e-mail bag:

"What would you rate your own book?" - this from a master (or mistress, actually) of making people uncomfortable. Professionally. My book would receive 2.0 out of 5.0 Power Orgasms, but luckily for me, it is no longer in print, is not considered a "proper" book (since the publisher sold out to iUniverse), and will never be seen again. But, for a genre read, it's okay. Now, MH, would you like to share how you decided to become a dominatrix?

"I can't believe that people are rooting against you."
"First time reader [and] had to comment about the person whose friend was betting you wouldn't read 150 books. who cares?"
"I still don't think you'll make it, but read my book, XXXXXX, in your attempt."
"Ese lector francés no le insultaba. Pero pienso que está loca, también." - Graciás. Es verdad. Estoy loca. Muy, muy loca.


Bibliolatrist said...

That will happen. Push past it. I was revolted by HH at the beginning; somewhere along the line, Nabokov snookered me into finding HH sympathetic. Did you even get to the Hazes yet?!? Keep going, girl.

Shepcat said...

As a writer, I am jealous and awed that Nabokov, a Russian, possessed such a dazzling command for the English language, such an uncommon gift for bending it to his will, the likes of which I couldn't achieve in three lifetimes. Nabokov's mastery is a slap in the face of those who treat our native language with such casual disregard. For the dizzying thrill of his verbal acrobatics alone, you should press on.

More to the point of your dilemma, however, I would say this: it is possible to read Lolita as two different narratives, written simultaneously, just as John Coltrane was capable of playing both the melody and the harmony at the same time.

There's a moment in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver in which Sport the pimp (Harvey Keitel) and Iris the prostitute (Jodie Foster) share a tender moment in a flophouse apartment. He pulls her close, and they sway together to the gentle swell of the seductive music playing on the soundtrack. He kisses her softly and she melts into his embrace. In the midst of this dark, angry, and ultimately very violent film, Scorsese has placed this beautifully romantic encounter between two people that, however briefly, softens the sharp edges and gritty ugliness of the story. You are caught up in a familiar moment that you have seen before in hundreds, even thousands of films, when suddenly a voice inside you screams out, "For God's sake, she's only 12 years old!"

The needle is dragged violently across the record and the music comes to an abrupt halt.

Similarly with Lolita, I believe it is possible to be entranced by Humbert's tale of longing and desire, to allow yourself to revel with him in the throes of new romance, to be swept away by the currents of his rapturous narration, and to view him sympathetically as a man in love, even as you find yourself appalled and horrified by the monster who would prey on such a delicate, innocent girl.

Lolita is such an extraordinary high-wire act, performed so daringly, so deftly, and with such magnificently enthralling language, that I make a point of re-reading it every few years, just to remind myself of the myriad ways in which great literature can illuminate the human experience.

When you reach the end, I believe you'll be glad you did. And I would predict that you'll revisit Lolita some day, and discover it again with new eyes.

Kristin Dodge said...

I'm pushing through. As you said, shepcat, the language is beautiful, his depictions of these lovely girls ("nymphets") pregnant with details, from their insteps to crooked knees. It is almost hypnotic.

Perfect film analogy, by the way. That sealed it, for me.

Diana said...

Last Christmas break, I listened to Jeremy Irons read Lolita while I followed along. I haven't seen his film version, but he does a fabulous audio, and listening to him--hearing Nabokov's language-- is just another layer of beauty and richness.