When I got the book, I noticed that the blurb on the back compared Nabokov to Joyce. I'll admit that when I read that, I scoffed. Comparing anyone to Joyce was, I thought, impossibly brazen, and besides, I'd read some Nabokov before, and my impression was that his English was absolutely impeccable but depressingly sterile. Well, either my earlier impression was wrong, or else he improved tremendously before undertaking to write Lolita, because the comparison to Joyce was well earned. Even without the allusions, of which I'm sure I missed many or most, the language was simply -- it's embarrassing to try to describe the eloquence of it, the impeccable, conquering elegance of it, because one has to resort to one's own poor capacity for language -- or else to try, inevitably in vain, to imitate Nabokov's -- to the purpose, and cannot possibly succeed.
"I got out of the car and slammed its door. How matter-of-fact, how square that slam sounded in the void of the sunless day!"Or:
"I hear myself crying from a doorway into the sun, with the acoustics of time, domed time, endowing my call and its tell-tale hoarseness with such a wealth of anxiety, passion and pain that really it would have been instrumental in wrenching open the zipper of her nylon shroud had she been dead."Or:
"'Give it back,' she pleaded, showing me the marbled flush of her palms."Absolutely Joycean -- and even, in a way, more centered, easier and bolder, than Joyce.
I can't say I particularly liked either Lolita or Humbert, or anyone in the whole novel, but that didn't matter. Everything seemed to carry the same aura of vile sensuality, everything vividly textured, immediate, enveloping, and everyone seemed altogether too real to be pitied, or forgiven. Or dismissed.
It's not the kind of book that ends with a bang; I could tell that from the start. There's almost no climax at all. Just snapshots and snapshots piling one on the next and accumulating, finally, into some kind of nebulous story that isn't quite a tragedy but can't properly be called anything else. It just sort of is. I don't feel compelled to object to it, or defend it, or add anything more to it than it's own self-reviling and self-absolving self, which pretty much covers everything. Gentle, lurid, revolting, beautiful, unrepentant.
Hell, I have no idea what to say about it. It's not going down as one of my favorite books ever, but I can't explain why not. There's something unconsciously divine and deliberately coarse about it that is unmatchable, and ought to raise it above nearly everything else I've read. But I suppose in the end my indifference to the characters wins out, and the very reality of it prevents me from loving it to the degree that I appreciate it.
I don't really have anything else. Some books seem to clamor for immortality; this one simply states it. And whether you like it or not, there it is: immortal. The crunching gravel and wet leaves and grubby prepubescent beauties, all captured in motion, clearer than glass. Melancholy and sublime.
I should go write something while I'm being verbose and maudlin. Something else, I mean.
More later, maybe, or probably not.