Friday, March 31, 2017

The Pianist's HandsThe Pianist's Hands by Eugenio Fuentes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"My hands are a pianist's hands too. And yet I've scattered small corpses all over the city with them."

This disquieting quote comes from the first page of Eugenio Fuentes' The Pianist's Hands (2003). Yet a reader who expects another run-of-the-mill story about serial killer of children will be disappointed. While the small corpses are indeed abundant, they are of different variety. This is my fourth book in the Ricardo Cupido series and despite several major reservations about Mr. Fuentes' work I still like the series because of the author's idiosyncrasies and his tendency to keep the protagonist in the background. I will keep searching for his other books as the author's European-flavored clichés are so refreshingly different from the overused American ones.

The novel features two interconnected threads taking place in Breda, a fictional city in Spain: a failed concert pianist makes his living by producing the aforementioned small corpses while the police and Cupido deal with a suspicious death in a construction company. When one of the partners falls to his death the investigation reveals several people who might have benefited from his demise. Of course, it is Cupido who eventually solves the case, via a revelation of sorts. One of the two minor threads is focused on the detective's elderly mother and the other on an affair of the heart between the deceased partner and one of his employees.

Luckily, Mr. Fuentes does not continue his gratuitous obsession with semen that spoiled my previous read of this author The Depths of the Forest . Unfortunately, the author still indulges in rather gratuitous scenes of cruelty. This time though my major complaint is Mr. Fuentes' propensity for amateur, superficial psychology and shallow sociological observations. The sweeping and stereotypical characterizations of the "country people" provide an acute example. The author also uses a particularly clumsy plot device offering a piece of important information conveniently late, along with an implausible explanation why it has not been available earlier. We can also find a totally incongruous bit about the Wittgenstein brothers - the philosopher and the painter. An awkwardly written sex scene that oscillates between weird pathos and plain ugliness suggests a possibility of imperfect translation.

Yet again, the author redeems himself in my eyes through producing a feel of unsophisticated innocence, charming and sweet naiveté that permeates the text, like in his Blood of the Angels . I also feel the allure of strange off-centeredness of the novel. The reader will not be able to confuse this novel with any of the current US crime/mystery bestsellers whose distinguishing feature is that they are all the same. Like these bestsellers Mr. Fuentes' mystery is also not very good but in quite a novel and amusing way.

Two and three quarter stars.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Waitress Was NewThe Waitress Was New by Dominique Fabre
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"You really are a useful thing in other people's lives when you're a barman."

First a micro-review of this micro-book: Not much of a story, no overt message, yet a good read: well-captured everyday life, unadorned with literary frills.

Dominique Fabre's novella The Waitress Was New (2005) with its 110 half-size pages may be - gasp! - a bit short even for me. However, what is does not exhibit in terms of volume it makes up by being thoroughly unusual: the novella is a quiet celebration of the ordinariness of everyday life. People's behaviors and characterizations are the focus and there is only a slightest whisper of what might be considered a "story."

For Pierre, the narrator, a lonely aging barman in Café Le Cercle in Paris, working the bar is the only sense and focus of his existence. While hints are dropped as to his dramatic past: divorce(s), drugs, serious illness, Pierre is almost serene these days. Not that he is actually happy: he is just accustomed to a tolerable degree of unhappiness. No dreams, no hopes, but also no major worries, except for anxieties about not having secured enough work credits for the full pension after almost forty years of employment.
Quiet, peaceful life filled with listening to the bar patrons' troubled stories, observing their behavior, reading Primo Levi's books in the evenings, and conversing with his long dead mother. In the tiny wisp of a plot his boss' marital life is in trouble and Pierre, rather unsuccessfully, is trying to offer emotional support to the boss' wife. The thinness of the story emphasizes that anything that "happens" is really incidental to the melancholy account of Pierre's days who is already sort of on the other side, seemingly resigned to the fact that he will spend the remaining years of his life occupied with waiting for death.

Good, extremely short read, which at first does not feel depressing. This comes later - I am sure that's precisely what the author intended - when the reader reflects on what it means to be old and completely lonely. One will not find much solace in this book, but why should one: life is a pretty grim business and the end comes too soon.

Three and a quarter stars.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Drowned Boy (Inspector Konrad Sejer, #11)The Drowned Boy by Karin Fossum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"There's a lot you don't know."

I do have "a thing" for Karin Fossum's prose and have rated several of her novels with five stars. I love that she writes about everyday matters and captures the extraordinary meanings of completely ordinary, everyday events. She teaches us the truth and beauty of little things using narration closer to a whisper than to a scream. She is a serious mystery writer who has not yet succumbed to the allure of commercialism. While The Drowned Boy is certainly not Ms. Fossum's best book I still like it a lot.

Inspector Sejer is called by Jacob Skarre to the scene of an accident. Carmen, a very young mother, found her sixteen-month-old boy drowned in a pond. Despite Carmen's and her young husband's lifesaving efforts the boy dies. Neither Skarre nor Sejer are certain what exactly happened as Carmen's version of the accident does not quite ring true. Yet it is not the mystery of the boy's death that provides the main narrative axis of the plot, but the moral and ethical questions raised by Ms. Fossum. When making momentous decisions should we follow our moral standards or are obligations to other people more important? And an even tougher question: when a honestly reasoned decision happens to be the most convenient one, is it still OK to follow it?

I'd rather Ms. Fossum did not solve the mystery of what happened to the boy; the resolution is based on an awkward literary device - a diary that is way too erudite considering its author. On the other hand I like the in-your-face artifice of the denouement: the author makes it patently clear that there should not be a solution and one is provided only because it is expected by readers. This is one of the main reasons I love Ms. Fossum's novels: she does not really care about the "story" - she cares about her characters instead. Another major reason of my attraction is that Ms. Fossum never judges her characters but tries to understand them instead.

This is not a book for younger readers (meaning below 40, 50 or 60, whatever one's definition of "young" is). For instance, Inspector Sejer suffers bouts of dizziness and, of course, worries about brain tumor. This provides a lighter counterpoint to the serious main thread, but to me, a true geezer, it is clear that the author is one of us, the 60+ crowd, who have "been there, done that."

I have a problem with the translation by Kari Dickson (she did not translate any of the other novels by Ms. Fossum that I have read). The sentences, especially the dialogues sometimes sound unnatural and the prose does not sound right. For instance, someone roughly estimates the distance to be 165 feet. Yes, 50 meters is 165 feet, but no one would use such an exact number in a conversation.

Flawed yet wonderful read.

Three and three quarter stars.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger: The Authorised BiographyEdge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger: The Authorised Biography by William J. Mann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"John Schlesinger is eulogized as the man who made Midnight Cowboy, but Sunday, Bloody Sunday is his masterpiece, [...]"

Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger (2005) transcends the biography genre: it is much more than a vacuous enumeration of stages of life and professional achievements of an artist. This authorized biography of the great British film director offers a moving tribute not only to the great master and his art but also to the loving and enduring relationship between him and his partner. True, the reader will find some name-dropping, tabloid-style gossip, and even some "Hollywood dirt" on the pages of this massive volume (over 500 pages - the longest book I have read in many years), but these snippets appear incidental to the main thrust of the story.

I need to disclaim that Sunday, Bloody Sunday and Midnight Cowboy (SBS and MC henceforth) are two of the best films I have seen in my life. In fact, depending on my mood, SBS might be the film that I love most of all, so the admiration for Schlesinger's work may have biased my reception of the biography.

I agree with all the praise the author heaps on MC, indeed a masterpiece, a "psychedelic trip [...] with its otherworldly, dreamlike feel", a film that reflects the "time of huge and tumultuous upheaval in American society," and - along with Easy Rider - heralds the 1970s, the best period in American cinema. MC signifies the beginning of the New Hollywood era, with its ambiguous messages, lack of old-style heroes, and candidness about sexual matters (MC is the only X-rated movie ever to win Academy Awards), including homosexuality. Yet to me MC ranks below the stellar regions of little-known SBS, a "piece of chamber music," a penetrating study of a unconventional love triangle, and "a monumentally beautiful" film.

In the biography non-linearly structured so that the stories of the director's creative path are framed by vignettes of "today" (2003) we read about the director's work on over 20 movies: in addition to MC and SBS I find at least three other outstanding works: Billy Liar that made a huge impression 50 years ago on the teenager that turned into me, Darling, a film that epitomizes the Swinging Sixties in London, and Marathon Man with the unforgettable "Is it safe?" torture scene. We learn that at least three Schlesinger's movies were colossal artistic and commercial flops. We also read about Mr. Schlesinger's acting career and his later opera and stage directing. His last years are revealed as well, the years when he could not or would not speak, after having suffered two strokes.

The author seems to emphasize Mr. Schlesinger's uncommon approach to his homosexuality. He was sometimes ostracized by the gay community about not "coming out" of a closet (anyway, not early enough). The author points out that the director had never been in the closet, that he had never done anything to hide his sexual preference. So why would he have to come out?

And finally there is the extraordinary love story between John Schlesinger and Michael Childers: real love story that included not just living together, not just wanting to spend all your time with your partner, but also wetting your lover's lips when he is dying.

Four and a quarter stars.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Fiddlers (87th Precinct, #55)Fiddlers by Ed McBain
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"[...] the French are peculiar. To them, ambulance means lighting, music, mood, the whole setting"

Fiddlers is the last novel in the monumental 87th Precinct series that spans half a century and includes 55 volumes published between 1956 and 2005. Ed McBain (Evan Hunter) died the year that the book was published. I have re-read and reviewed here selected installments - this is the twelfth one - spaced, roughly, by five years.

A talented violinist, a Vietnam vet blinded in action who has been earning his living playing in a night club, is shot to death. Carella and Meyer Meyer catch the case, but soon more detectives from the 87th get involved as there occur further killings committed with the same weapon: it becomes clear that the police have a serial killer on their hands. Of course we meet all the familiar characters: Bert Kling, Cotton Hawes, Arthur Brown, Andy Parker, Richard Genero; Ollie Weeks also offers a substantial contribution. The plot interweaves the detective threads with the story of the killer told in parallel.

Unfortunately Fiddlers is not a memorable ending to the series that many critics and millions of readers consider a pinnacle of the police procedural genre. The setup and the structure of the novel are totally formulaic. I have read at least 10 books that have the exact same premise and the same narrative approach - the intertwining of the detectives' and killer's threads, and they really read as identical books. Only the names, the locations, and some minor details are changed.

A more specific complaint of mine is that the book consists almost exclusively of dialogues, pages and pages of conversations, as if it were a TV script. The term "novel" hardly fits here. There are sparse narrative pieces - in fact, one is sweetly lyrical.

There are a few good bits about Fiddlers so that it is not a complete waste of time. We have a completely changed Fat Ollie Weeks. Ollie is on a diet and - gasp! - he begins to fall behind in his pursuit of bigotry: he is dating a Latina police officer! Fortunately, we have Det. Parker to carry the torch of cliché bigotry. And we have a little originality in Bert Kling's thread - his cliché troubles with affairs of the heart get a strange twist. The title is sort of a double entendre, not stellar, but not that bad either.

I am rather happy that I have finished the re-read project: although I do not exactly regret re-reading these selected installments of the series, I would like to offer a mean-spirited, sarcastic rendering of Mr. McBain famous motto:
The city in this novel is generic.
The people, the places are paper-thin placeholders.
The plot and the narrative structure are based on cliché templates.

Two stars.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

The War against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000The War against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 by Martin Amis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"[...] all writing is a campaign against cliché. Not just clichés of the pen but clichés of the mind and clichés of the heart."

While reading The War Against Cliché (2001), a voluminous collection of literary reviews by Martin Amis, has been a lot of fun it has also been a deeply humbling experience. Comparing Mr. Amis' deep, witty, polished reviews with my own attempts is like comparing paintings by Velázquez with a toddler's smears. The reviews in the collection are gorgeously written and very funny, often viciously and sarcastically funny. At the same time the reviews expose the author's cynical and common-sense outlook on our crazy world. Mr. Amis is an extraordinary writer in terms of the literary technique. In fact, I much prefer his reviews to his fiction (I have reviewed several novels on Goodreads, for instance, Time's Arrow , Success , and many more), which - although interesting and very readable - are no match for the excellence of his literary reviews.

I guess my admiration for this collection is mainly due to the fact that Mr. Amis addresses several topics that are my idées fixes about literature and its perception:
1. Most books are too long.
2. Cliché is a rot that begins on the surface of a book, i.e. in the language, and diffuses toward its deeper layers: moods, emotions, meanings.
3. Readers might benefit by shifting their focus from the story told in a novel to the artistry of the story teller.
4. Nothing in art conveys reality better than well-written fiction.
(After the rating, I include Mr. Amis' quotes that illustrate the above four points.)

Quite a few reviews in this set are devastating and devastatingly funny. About Michael Crichton's writing: "Animals [...] are what he is good at. People are what he is bad at. People, and prose." Thomas Harris' Hannibal is obliterated as a "novel of such profound and virtuoso vulgarity." Andy Warhol's self-absorption and vacuousness are made severe fun of. And on the topic of "funny": there is a passage in the review of Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater, which is one of the funniest anecdotes I've heard in my life. I strongly recommend checking out the story to which the punchline is "That's how good Drenka was."

Mr. Amis conveys his loving admiration for great literature and offers extended analyses of works he calls "Great Books": among them Don Quixote, Ulysses, and Lolita. Yet another wonderful feature of this collection is that the pieces are engrossing even when they are about things that do not interest me in the slightest, such as football and poker.

Four and a quarter stars.

Some great quotes:
On books that are too long:
"There are two kinds of long novel. Long novels of the first kind are short novels that go on for a long time."
Alas, the majority of long novels fall into this category. On the second item in my list above the author writes:
"Cliché spreads inwards from the language of the book to its heart. Cliché always does."
Nabokov's quote (on Emma Bovary's reading habits) re-quoted by Mr. Amis illustrates the third item:
"The subject may be crude and repulsive. Its expression is artistically modulated and balanced. This is style. This is art. This is the only thing that really matters in books.
And on the power of fiction:
"[...] when fiction works, the individual and the universal are frictionlessly combined."

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Monday, March 13, 2017

The Depths of the ForestThe Depths of the Forest by Eugenio Fuentes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"There's a Numa in every forest, a fanatic guardian who has just one mission: to make sure that the wild woods stay wild."

Depths of the Forest (1999), my third book by Eugenio Fuentes, could easily be the best of the three, if not for the author's bizarre obsession that I ridicule later. It is the fourth entry in the Ricardo Cupido series, and the earliest one that has so far been translated into English. It is similar in structure, tone, and style to the later installments The Blood of the Angels and At Close Quarters .

The story takes place mainly in a fictional Spanish nature reserve and in the nearby town where Cupido lives. A talented painter and art gallery owner Gloria Garcia Carvajal is brutally murdered while walking in the forest: Gloria's boyfriend does not have confidence in the police force and hires Cupido to find the killer. The detective's investigation offers the reader an opportunity to meet quite a sizable set of suspects: Gloria's ex-lovers and admirers as well as her business partner. The most fascinating thread involves Doña Victoria, who used to be the owner of the lands on which the nature reserve was founded, and who has been involved in a protracted legal battle about the land ownership.

However, when another young woman is murdered in equally brutal way, it becomes apparent that a crazed serial killer is at large and that Gloria was not the particular target. From the whodunit point of view the plot is very interesting, and the book is for the most part compulsively readable. The denouement, a little in the Nero-Wolfean style, is a bit disappointing though.

I like the author's descriptions of nature: the forbidding forest with its ominous atmosphere comes alive on the pages and the mysterious cave paintings keep the reader in suspense. We are also offered a funny relief moment when Cupido recalls his youthful activities in the cave. Probably the best aspect of the novel is the characterization of Gloria - her portrayal is vivid, lively, and completely lifelike - I could imagine I have personally known Gloria despite the fact that she is only talked about and known from her own writings.

Brutal, cruel scenes have their place in literature, provided they make sense in the context. The killing of a stag is one of the most harrowing scenes I have encountered in quite some time: I recommend more sensitive readers skip the three page-fragment that begins with "They lowered the stag to the ground..." The brutality is justified in the plot, though, and it conveys a powerful message about people who use suffering of others, be it animals or other humans, to further any cause they are obsessed about.

Sexual references of even the rawest, most vulgar kind are also legitimate components of a literary work of art - again, as long as they are justified in the context - yet I have been stunned by the author's "sementics," his demented antics on the topic of semen of animal (three references) or human (another three mentions) origin. One of these references even uses the phrase "It was all so horribly gratuitous that I was nearly sick." Well, dear Mr. Fuentes, semen is not gratuitous, but your way of mentioning it certainly is.

Semen-free Depths would be a very good book, both as a detective novel and even perhaps as actual literature. With the gratuitous bits, I still recommend it, albeit with hesitation.

Three stars.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous MountainK2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain by Ed Viesturs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"As they forged on down into the darkness, the two Austrians lost track of Mrufka. They assumed she was just behind them, but they would never see her again."

As a clumsy person afraid of heights the closest I have gotten to mountaineering was to conquer Orla Perć, a difficult tourist hike in Polish Tatra Mountains. Yet since childhood I have had a love for mountains and have always enjoyed reading climbing books. K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain (2009) by Ed Viesturs and David Roberts is an important book for me for another reason. My wife and I used to be friends with Dobrosława "Mrufka" Wolf, one of the climbers who perished on K2 during the disastrous 1986 season, and the authors shed some additional light on the tragedy.

Mr. Viesturs is one of the very few people who managed to conquer K2, the "Savage Mountain", considered the hardest mountain on Earth to climb: he certainly is the right person to write about the history of K2 expeditions. He focuses on six most dramatic seasons in the K2 history, but also recounts his own successful ascent during the 1992 expedition. Of the perhaps 50 or so authors of mountaineering books I have read, Mr. Viesturs comes across as the most cautious. In fact he keeps insisting that his decision to continue the 1992 climb that resulted in reaching the summit had been wrong and that he is alive just because of luck. This was the only time that he violated the motto he used to live by:
Reaching the summit is optional. Getting down is mandatory.
The first two attempts to conquer K2 date back to the beginning of the 20th century: one of them involved the famous "occultist and egomaniac" Aleister Crowley. The other attempt, led by the Italian Duke of Abruzzi had been more serious: the climbers had found the now classic route. The members of the 1938 American expedition led by Charles Houston achieved the elevation over 7900 meters. One is unable to refrain from smiling when the authors quote Houston's enjoyment of a "restful cigarette, which seemed especially welcome at these high altitudes." I wonder which activities that we now consider as perfectly normal will be considered suicidal 79 years from now - eating chocolate?

The next American attempt turned into what the authors describe as "one of the most enigmatic expeditions of all time." The climbers reached the height of 8400 meters, but three team members died in a still not completely explained tragedy, with conflicting versions of critical events in existence. In deep contrast, yet another American attempt in 1953 was, in the authors' words, an "embodiment of team spirit and the standard to which all expeditions should aspire." Only an unusually brutal storm prevented the expedition from succeeding. It was finally in 1954 that an Italian team conquered K2: again there had been some controversial events during that attempt and the revelations that emerged fifty years after the climb justify the authors' viciously funny critique of the failed leadership in that successful endeavor.

My friend, Dobrosława Wolf, known as "Mrufka" (phonetic transcription of the Polish word for "ant"), died in August 1986. 13 climbers died on K2 that summer and the authors describe the tragedy and try to cast light on its reasons. Unusual crowding of the route, unequal technical skills of multi-national climbers, lack of permits and resulting haste all might have contributed to the drama.

K2 is one of the best mountaineering books I have ever read. I like the authors' serious, even-handed approach, their staying away from cheap sensationalism and "macabre delight in tragedy" while not avoiding sarcasm and humor when they are called for. And I truly appreciate Mr. Viestur's insistent emphasis on safety to the extent possible in the extreme conditions of high-altitude climbing. The book ends with a fragment about Mr. Viestur's family, sweet but incongruous with the entire work.

Four stars.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Monkeewrench (Monkeewrench, #1)Monkeewrench by P.J. Tracy
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

"The minute he'd seen that cross carved into Mary Kleinfeldt's chest, he'd had the bad feeling that this was probably one of those crimes that would haunt his old age."

It may seem vicious of me to review this book immediately after Lolita but I do not exactly set the order of books I read: other than alternating so-called "serious books" with "entertainment books," the order is random. Monkeewrench, the debut thriller by P.J. Tracy (a pseudonym of a mother-daughter writing duo) comes highly recommended as one of the more popular books of 2003 and is mentioned on several lists of best thrillers of that year. Since I am unable to share any of the enthusiasm and the book barely escapes my lowest rating I am curious about the criteria used by people who make these lists: if they have not been directly paid by authors they probably praise the book's premise without actually reading the novel.

The setup is indeed interesting. We seem to begin with three separate threads. An elderly, devoutly religious couple are slain in rural Wisconsin: the woman has a cross carved in her chest. A jogger is shot in Minneapolis. We are also introduced to five members of a software development team who work on a video game about catching a serial killer. There are more murders and - no surprise - a specter of a serial killer emerges. Life seems to follow the video game as the authors unsubtly tell the reader. All threads eventually merge and culminate in an eventful, cinematic rather than literary climax, followed by a sappy ending.

I can forgive the authors the smart-aleck, cuter-than-cute, oh-how-funny-but-not-quite, wink-at-the-reader writing style. I can forgive the plot clichés and virtually non-existent character development that makes the detectives and game developers feel less real than cartoon characters. The one thing that I am unable to forgive is that the book is twice longer than it needs to be. About 200 pages (out of ridiculous 409 pages) contain nothing but filler stuff, pointless fluff text that does not move the plot, does not enrich the characterizations, and does not tell the reader anything interesting. Pages,
and pages of padding and stuffing whose absence no reader would be able to notice.

The attempt to exploit the intersection of real world and the universe of computer games is not successful. The authors try to convey the computer developer mystique, yet they lack basic knowledge (for example, "comparative analysis software" would not be needed to merge two lists) and just reveal their naïveté. Events slow down, magically, in preparation for each major step in the plot. Lame! A congenital defect is used as a plot device. Lame! I usually give writers a lot of leeway as far as offensiveness is concerned, but not when supposedly touching fragments tastelessly combine with feeble attempts at irreverent humor. The novel fails on so many levels!

One and a quarter stars.

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

LolitaLolita by Vladimir Nabokov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"She was only the faint violet whiff and dead leaf echo of the nymphet I had rolled myself upon with such cries in the past; an echo on the brink of a russet ravine, with a far wood under a white sky, and brown leaves choking the brook, and one last cricket in the crisp weeds..."

I read Lolita for the first time in high school and now, after my current re-read, it seems to me that I had then read a completely different book. It should not be a surprise: there is no way that awkward teenager of 1960s and this cynical geezer of 2017 are the same person. While the teenager was fascinated with the taboo topic and oh-so-adult plot, the geezer could not care less about the taboos and the story but is awed by the magnificent prose. So these two different people agree that - for different reasons - this is indeed an extraordinary work, and its inclusion in various lists of best English-language novels and the most celebrated books in the history of literature is justified.

In his Lectures on Literature (according to Martin Amis' The War Against Cliché) Nabokov tries to teach people how to read, tries to make the readers "share not the emotions of the people in the book but the emotions of its author." In my own uneducated way I have been following this advice, caring less about what the authors are writing about and more about how they write. In simpler words, when reading a serious book I focus on the prose. And from the lush and lovely alliterations of the first paragraph to the ending invocation, Lolita is an amazing, jaw-dropping celebration of English language. One can find a dazzling language jewel on each of the three hundred or so pages and spend hours deciphering the elaborate structures of word plays, allusions and puns. I have been amazed by the unparalleled virtuosity of style, the constant changes in literary conventions and narrative structures and strategies.

This very dark comedy is a vicious satire on the American popular culture, the moronic world of commercials, the travel industry, road trip literature, etc. But then there is the ostensibly main topic of the novel that has offended and disgusted thousands and thousands of readers and I should at least mention the general subject of Humbert Humbert's (HH from now on) "pederosis." Yet unlike that teenager with whom I share the body, now I can only view the subject from the perspective of art, Nabokov's exquisite art of language. When reading I often make little notes to myself and when I read through the scene that happens on the candy-striped davenport, after HH catches the apple that Lo has been eating, I just sat there in amazement, and wrote in big letters on my note paper "I am stunned." Yes, some the most extraordinary pages of English prose I have read in my life.

A perfect novel then? Oh no, definitely not! The "afterword" entitled "On a Book Entitled Lolita", where the author seems to defend the novel, weakens the book's impact. As a work of art - great art! - the novel completely defends itself. Also, the author writes:
"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 [...]"
Maybe I am obtuse but what then does Nabokov mean when he quotes "an old poet":
"The moral sense in mortals is the duty
We have to pay on mortal sense of beauty."
Of course, Nabokov is right when he says that literature is not in the business of conveying "morals", but then - as I see - he seems to flout his own rule.

I actively dislike the very short fragment that takes place in Beardsley School when HH notices "another girl with a very naked, porcelain-white neck," and the text suddenly escapes the world of metaphors where the rest of the novel safely resides and moves for a moment, along with Dolly's red-knuckled hand, to the physically literal sphere. The movie-style ending also seems incongruous with the rest of the novel: the film adaptations have cheapened the novel enough.

So while it feels unnatural to assign any rating lower than maximum to Lolita, my reverence is muted by reservations.

Four and a half stars.

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