Wednesday, June 6, 2007

...and then HH still manages to break my heart.

Completed. Lolita. It was wonderful, but warrants a closer read a second time around. This will go into my "must-read again" pile. As I might have explained before, I read books I really enjoy at least two times - once for plot, second time for language/craft. This obviously needs to be read for language. But I will have to put it away for later.

This was a really really good read though. I was hesitant for many years to pick this book up because I felt weird about the subject matter. I remember my ex-boyfriend in high school was reading it, and I just thought that was a little "gross" of him. He's not much of a reader though, which makes me wonder why the hell he was reading it. But anyway.

A great use of language, is the obvious thing to say here. Superb use of rhythm, poetry, alliteration, and just general descriptions and overall environment. I'm sure I missed many gems while reading through this time (but will catch the second time around). For certain, I didn't quite catch on who the mystery man was, but I probably didn't read as closely as I should have. Knowing now, I want to go back and pick up the clues.

So I said in my last post, that I was becoming unsympathetic towards HH. But by the end of the novel, I became extremely sympathetic to him. Maybe it was because he seriously had lost everything, and truly believed he loved her. Him reminiscing, realizing that Lolita was lonely, that they never talked, that she'd rather have had her mother around whom she did not get along with, than to be with him, I felt that incredibly sad in a way. For both him and her. His realization that he had robbed her of her childhood. And when he gives over so much money, even when I thought maybe he would go crazy and kill her, he doesn't, doesn't have the heart to, he loves her so much. He hands her the money and bawls like a big baby. And that makes me so sad for him. Makes me think that deep inside his twisted neurosis, deep inside his illness and perversion, he might have some part of him who really is good. A part of him that truly does love her beyond obsession of the flesh.

And oh, the ending. It broke my heart for some reason. The way he wrote to this Lolita from the dead, since this was not to be published til she died. After all was said and done. It transformed him, at least in my eyes, from a horrible monster to a very very pathetic, sad, old man. It ends with a heartbreaking last paragraph, perhaps the one time we see him be a father, dispensing fatherly advice, and loving her apparently with clarity and genuineness:

But while the blood still throbs through my writing hand, you are still as much part of the blessed matter as I am, and I can still talk to you from here to Alaska. Be true to your Dick. Do not let other fellows touch you. Do not talk to strangers. I hope you will love your baby. I hope it will be a boy. That husband of yours, I hope, will always treat you well, because otherwise my specter shall come at him, like black smoke, like a demented giant, and pull him apart nerve by nerve. And do not pity C. Q. One had to choose between him and H. H., and one wanted H. H. to exist at least a couple of months longer, so as to have him make you live in the minds of later generations. I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.
--[pg. 309, Lolita]

Incredible opening, incredible closing.


The afterword by Nabokov is a pretty good read too. Interesting things he addresses to critics comments. I especially liked towards the end, his description of what this book does for him. As an aspiring writer, I can relate to process he's taken, the way he feels towards this little masterpiece. And I especially like what he says here:

There are gentle souls who would pronounce Lolita meaningless because it does not teach them anything. I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and, despite John Ray's assertion, Lolita has no moral in tow. For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm.
-- [pg. 314-315, Lolita]

Matt said to me once that a story is simple. We were talking about The Road and he said it was such a simple tale, but so powerful. And so now, sometimes I get stuck on writing, I try to parse it back to simplicity. Of course a plot is complex. Of course lines weave and characters have layers and there are metaphors sometimes or symbols or a big issue. But inherently, a good story has a basis of simplicity - something we all understand, something that captures humanity. Art does that, captures states of being human, something universal. It doesn't need a moral, necessarily, because there are things we all inherently can relate to. A story like Lolita doesn't need to be a cautionary tale of sorts, because we already know the fundamentals. A story is better, I would argue, without an overt moral (think of the movie Crash here), because there are different parts of life that would speak to us. The point being, I read those words of Nabokov, and thought, this is a true writer. I nodded my head in agreement.

By the way, some of his afterword had me giggling aloud on the subway home. Namely, the three things people can't write about. How witty. I think people were looking at me like, why is that pervert giggling while reading a story about a pedophile?

Anyway. Yes. Good read. I love it. Must read again. And, definitely will read more of his works.

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