Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I admire Nabokov so much.

I'm sick, so don't have the patience to give this book the in-depth critique it deserves.  Perhaps I'll come back to it later.  [Bonus: Pnin shows up in Pale Fire, as does the name Lolita!  Hee hee!]  In the meantime, my Goodreads review:

I really love love Nabokov, and this was so much fun. Pale Fire took me some time to get through but as soon as I was finished, I started rereading portions of the book. I love books like this, wrapped in mystery that is inherent in the piece itself. I found the Foreward amusing, but didn't really understand it until I'd read through the whole thing. I was really drawn into the poem once I was in it, especially the section with the daughter. And of course the extensive Commentary was both hilarious and infuriating. n I have to say that I found Kinbote so intensely unlikable that throughout, even as I was flipping pages, I wondered how Nabokov had created something that would make me want to keep reading despite how much I despised his narrator AND the fact that we're led to "guess" the secret early on. Perhaps it's just the process of seeing this man's delusion that is fascinating? I have no idea. What I love about this piece is that there are so many pieces of a puzzle that you can extract, even in the final Index! My only quibble was that perhaps the final few lines in the Commentary seem unnecessary, and tell us too much we already know. But I'll have to reread it to see if there's something I missed. Overall, while this wasn't something that hit me on an emotional level (I usually reserve my fifth star because I love a book on a heartbreaking visceral level), this was a pursuit of intellect and play and psychology that I can't resist in a book. Nabokov has never let me down!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Another gem.

I adored Billy the Kid.  Absolutely.  I finished it, googled the life of Billy the Kid, then threw myself back into the book for a second read.  It's like poetry but not.  Or I guess it's partly poetry.  But with a plot.  It feels like a well-wrapped gift, or a puzzle, and the fun part of it is unraveling it.  Reading it slowly and savoring it.  Making sense of things that didn't make sense the first time around.  It feels special in the way that few books do.  I am a huge fan of Ondaatje at this point, and am in love with how he uses his words, but also how he uses form.  It's experimental, but not in a crazy kooky way that sometimes drives me nuts -- it's experimental in a beautiful way, like being carried by a stream and bumping along some boulders and brush and seareeds as we pass.  I can't explain it in any other way.

The book is short -- around 100 pages -- but it is a collection of poems, prose snippets, photographs and even newspaper articles and dime books.  It's at turns hilarious and horrifying, and it flips back and forth through time, so that on the first read, you have no idea what is going on.  It switches point of views, it interviews other people, and it's not always clear what's happening.  But that's part of the fun.  Ondaatje creates a beautifully sympathetic character, and gives us a hilariously reimagined biography of an infamous character.  And I love him for it.

The best books are the ones that I can go back to and reread over and over again and find something new to savor about it.  Those books, for me, usually require some kind of language that I admire and want to roll endlessly on my tongue.  There is something playful yet lyrical about Ondaatje's work.  I also wonder if Autobiography of Red, an absolute favorite of mine, which elicited much of the same visceral devotion that I had with this book, was inspired by this 1970s novel (apparently Ondaatje's first).  I liked this book as I was reading it the first time, loved it as I got towards the end, and now having gotten halfway through a second read, am completely enamored.  These are the kind of books I love but can't even begin to understand how to go about writing.

Love love love.