Lolita is a Hell of a Book
The book I read this weekend, which I am embarrassed not to have read already, was “Lolita.” Something stands out to me about this book — what is it? Oh yes. It is DIRTY. Dirty as aitch-ee-double-hockey-sticks. Dirty dirty dirty. It surprises me when classic literature is dirty. Actually, even modern books — I always get this “hey now” moment the first time a novel has sexual content or the eff word or anything. The reason for this is probably as simple and dense as the fact that there’s no MPAA rating on a book — if it’s not in the “romance” section (AKA “porn for girls”; you have no idea what you’re getting into. But I think for me there’s also an element that books are things in libraries and on shelves and maybe in bars if you’re trying to hit on someone wearing glasses.
Very, very carefully.
Probably this comes from the fact that, growing up, I didn’t read many classics unless they were on a school reading list. So you go from “Summer of My German Soldier” to “A Wrinkle in Time” to “Where the Red Fern Grows” to “The Once and Future King,” and nothing crosses your plate that would make your parents blush to know you were reading it.
I`m reminded of the fact that I had to read “Their Eyes Were Watching God” three times in my academic career. Three. Times. I don’t think it does much good to make sure your students are exposed to African-American authors if its practice is so totally perfunctory that it translates to the same one THRICE.
I expected Humbert Humbert to be more tragic and bewildered, and not so gleefully, remorselessly evil — probably because in that one version he was played by Jeremy Irons, and Jeremy Irons is Crown High Prince of Tragic and Bewildered. I expected there to be a lot of longing and maybe some seducing and not a non-stop travelogue of gratification and crime.
Orr-bit cleans up a duhty movie.
But what surprised me even more is how modern this book is–the humor, the delivery, and the way it sets you up to like this horrible dude. All these Hollywood dudes who can’t pull off a dark comedy need a seminar with “Lolita” and A Life Less Ordinary and maybe if they behave the highlights from Clue. Seems to me dark makes everything better (see treatise on Spiderman 2) but dark for dark’s sake sucks me like a hurricane (see L.A. Confidential, which deserves a complete heckling, and The Man Who Wasn’t There, which managed to suck furiously despite having Billy Bob Thornton AND James Gandolfini AND Tony Shalhoub. Where’s the fraud, waste and abuse hotline for movies?)
I should be surprised I`m surprised. I read a kickin` article from MAD magazine (or maybe from when MAD was a comic; probably contemporary with this novel, that parodied the contrast between books and movies. F`rinstance the book’s murder is splattery and graphic, whereas the movie’s is bloodless and off-screen (also the book’s mistress is gangly, freckled and pigtailed, and the movie’s looks like Veronica Lake). It was illustrated by Jack Davis, so you know it was good.
I`m thoroughly off the subject now. That’s OK, I think — if I tried to offer a more formal critique of this little-known libertine tract called “Lolita” I`d embarrass myself to death. I keep writing down words I don’t know (etiolate, phocine and inutile among them — it weighs on my mind that someone should know more words in a third language than I in my first) so I can look them up later.