Amateur philosopher, deep but impatient thinker, not much time on my hands, exremely opinionated on certain subjects (America, dog food, pharmaceutical companies, lawyers, math education ....)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

A Different Sort of Book Review

If you read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and someone asks you, “Is it a good book?” you will not know how to answer this question. Recently asked this question, regarding this book, by my husband, I was compelled to take a good ten minutes to answer. Not an answer full of effusive, superlative praise, but rather an answer that attempted to catch something of the incredible range of emotions I went through while reading the book.

Imagine it is a sunny day. You are on a lake in a boat drifting gently toward one end of the lake. You have few, if any, cares. There are a few fluffy white clouds, a warm, gentle breeze. If is neither too hot nor too cold and no insects mar your experience. You are comfortable, neither tired nor keyed up, but rather you are relaxed, alert and at complete ease. This is what reading the average (perhaps even the very good) book feels like.

Now imagine you reach the end of the lake and drift gently (you are still in your little rowboat) into a stream which drains the lake. Though you are perhaps somewhat surprised to find yourself in a new place, you don’t mind so very much. After all, it is still relaxing, it is still tranquil. (And you are still reading your book – perhaps now the story has taken an unexpected twist: if you had planned to put the book down in another page or two to see about making dinner, you might now readjust the pillow behind your back and decide that dinner can wait another half hour while you see what happens next).

But now let us assume that while your gaze was directed up at the clouds, floating gently downstream, your mind recalling perhaps an amusing, touching story, you suddenly become aware of a rushing sound in your ears. You look around and discover the gentle stream has become a swift-moving river. There are small rapids here and there because the landscape is changing. You take hold of the oars, intending to turn around because this isn’t what you were expecting at all. You desired tranquility and peace and a pleasurable experience. If adventure was a part of the afternoon, you meant for it to be safe.

But it is too late. The stream moves even faster than when you first found yourself to be in this unexpected situation. You look around rather helplessly. You have never come this way before. You are quite sure there are no massive waterfalls, but even of this you cannot be completely certain. The quality of the day, the time of day, (dinner) is forgotten, as you start to realize you are quite at the mercy of the stream. And, now, your yoga training kicks in and you realize surrendering to what IS, as what IS cannot be changed, is the wisest course, because you may as well as live this experience and enjoy it, as you are having this experience, whether you like it or not.

By now, the stream is a pounding river. The rapids turn your little rowboat to odd angles, lifting it high only to bring it crashing back down again, and now you abandon the oars, dropping them in your little boat. You grip the sides of the boat, plant your feet and surrender to the ride. Despite yourself, you are having starting to have fun, and it is exhilarating. You wonder where you’ll end up, finding you don’t attach a great deal of importance to the outcome.

Welcome, gentle readers. You are reading Lolita.

This describes my feelings until well past half-way through the book, when a single sentence prevented me from picking up the book for two whole days. Then, like the compulsive, out-of-control read that it is, you simply must pick it up again. You have to know how it will all come out.

How can an author so brilliantly evoke all this? How can an author create a narrator who is (from at least my own experience) the most egomaniacal individual ever created – living, dead, fictional, or real. A character you want so much to hate, and whom you often do, but mostly you are amused, and simultaneously you are horrified. You revile him. You sympathize with him. You understand him. You so completely fail to understand him. He is pathetically predictable yet impossible to figure out because he is so maddeningly complex. His monstrous ego does not prevent him from making up words in order to appeal to the reader’s sensibilities. Despite this massive ego, I think it is truly important to him that we understand his story, suggesting the narrator has some humility.

And so it goes until the final page. And when you finally close the book and your spouse asks, “Was it good?”, you answer in the manner I have because the book’s genius demands it. When they next ask, “Do you think I would enjoy it?”, you answer this question the only way you can, too: you’ll have to read it for yourself. That is Lolita.


At 9:03 AM, Blogger blogdog said...

Wonderful review! I have to confess to not having read it, though I've seen Jeremy Irons' performance in one of the movie versions. Lately I have only had time to read my own writing, which is a sure cure for insomnia. ("Installing SMS Software" is bound to be a runaway bestseller. Look for it in bookstores everywhere. :-) )

Hope all's well in Calgary!

At 5:24 PM, Blogger Chandira said...

Oooh.. I want to buy it again now. It sat on my shelf unread in England for the longest time, until I emmigrated.. when I sold it for about 75c.. Damn!

Yes, great review.. made me book-thirsty.. lol

At 4:04 PM, Blogger Chandira said...

Hey! Hope your'e enjoying your summer..

At 11:06 PM, Blogger B2 said...

Actually, I can honestly answer that I enjoyed Lolita... and most of Nabokov's other work, too. Do I sound simple saying that? Whatever.


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