Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Controlled and composed, that was Humbert Humbert away from Lolita. “There’s no funnier monster in modern literature than poor, doomed Humbert Humbert” this is what caught my attention, this description compelled me to read this novel and cast it as a piece of art. Humbert through Vladimir Nabokov, got his wish where he immortalized Lolita, figuratively and literally -through the presence of the novel-.

“Thus, neither of us is alive when the reader opens this book. But while the blood still throbs through my writing hand, you are still as much part of blessed matter as I am, and I can still talk to you from here to Alaska. Be true to your Dick. Do not let other fellows touch you. Do not talk to strangers. I hope you will love your baby. I hope it will be a boy. That husband of yours, I hope, will always treat you well, be- cause otherwise my specter shall come at him, like black smoke, like a demented giant, and pull him apart nerve by nerve. And do not pity C.Q. One had to choose between him and H.H., and one wanted H.H. to exist at least a couple of months longer, so as to have him make you live in the minds of later generations. I am thinking of au-rochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art.
And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.”

The lines were blurred, one cannot quite manage to say Nabokov’s Lolita as smoothly as Humbert’s Lolita. Humbert’s strong possession of Lolita trumped Nabokov’s authorial presence.

I get why this book turned heads around. However, the continuous irony, sadistic humour and erotic shadow that have been extended throughout the novel created an atmosphere which I believe would be hard to find in any other novel. Nabokov’s writing was filled with an ecstatic attention to detail, emotion, and nuance, he artfully used Humbert to manipulate his readers into becoming invested in Humbert’s point of view and poetic telling of things, losing sight of any gruesome act taking place.

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.

Nabokov allowed us to read such a twisted tale through the man’s point of view. I struggled with this. I could not fathom not hearing Lolita’s voice with an extended measure through the chapters, and it was odd. However, I believe that this was what I needed to make me fall in love with this book. How can someone fall with such an ugly yet beautifully written book?

He broke my heart. You merely broke my life.

The absence of Lolita’s voice casted Humbert in the limelight. Humbert proceeded to create a tale that would last for ages, a tale set in paper, engraved in stone, that of Lolita, his Lolita.

Rating: 5 stars.

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

I have went through the ending of this novel too many times. I am still trying to formulate an opinion and a review. This book is provocative and it is a new favourite of mine. However, 50-year-old Elle Bishop was no favourite of mine.

Meeting Elle Bishop -the heroine and the narrator of The Paper Palace– was not safe and normal. It was a meeting within the waves, following an affair. Here goes one of the worst first impressions.

“I could look at him and nothing else for eternity and be happy. I could listen to him, my eyes closed, feel his breath and his words wash over me, time and time and time again. It is all I want.”

Miranda Cowley Heller created a painful journey-like ambiguous novel. Heller crafted Bishop’s background story from scratch, allowing the reader to become a witness to decades of history. She uses the pond and the paper palace as significant vivid locations that tether Bishop, both forces acted as the compass for Bishop and her surrounding family.

“The sun has set, leaving behind a fiery orange sky. Pylons that once held up the long-gone piers stalk out into the river in rows of two, black against the burning sky.
“It’s painfully beautiful,” I say.
“Just so we are clear,” he says, “I will never love anyone the way I love you.”

The novel focuses mainly on marriage and a specific kind of fraility that had festered within Bishop’s marriage because of her past. Cowley Heller did not only focus on Elle and Peter’s marriage. She traces Bishop’s family tree choosing to exploit her grand mother’s marriages, her mother’s (Wallace’s marriage to her father and step-father), her father (two marriages). And as those relationships unfold, so does Bishop’s dilemma.

“In my day, we simply divorced and remarried,” Wallace quips. “So much simpler. Refreshing, even. Like buying a new suit of clothes.”

The presence of love, friendship and sisterhood distinguished this novel. It was a complete work. Despite the connection I felt while reading the novel, I could not make myself love Elle Bishop. There was this gap or barrier pushing me away from forming a connection with her. Additionally, I could not formulate a reason why Peter and Jonas fell in love with Elle. Throughout the novel, one finds that Elle focuses on every single character rather than her own self and it became hard to gauge how other characters regarded her.

Elle Bishop had her own affair with the seasons. The seasons were of an integral thematic presence throughout the novel documenting her inner turmoils and romantic interests. Additionally, the ending of this book is something else.

Elle Bishop found herself at crossroads, with no place to escape but the paper palace.

My rating: 4.5 stars.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Some books stay with you long after your eyes cross the very last page. The book follows you every step of the way, it becomes your shadow and it sort of haunts you. This was true of A Little Life. This was a heavy dose of reality and what one might go through -in life- sometimes with no absolvement in sight.

Relationships never provide you with everything. They provide you with some things. You take all you want from a person – sexual chemistry, let’s say, or good conversation, or financial support, or intellectual compatibility, or niceness, or loyalty – and you get to pick three of them.

It was not necessarily the book as a whole that haunted me. It was rather the characters, especially their pain. Willem, Jude, JB and Malcolm are still stuck with me. Four classmates move together from Massachusetts college to New York to start a new life, as Yanagihara traces their broken steps and their friendship’s timeline, one clings to each and every character more as the story progresses. I got to follow those four men on four different journeys which intertwine several times throughout the book.

You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.

I did not jump into the characters’ lives, Yanagihara introduced them slowly. I was able to delve deep one too many times into each and every character exploring their inner thoughts and getting a front row seat to their turmoil. The characters might have been fleshed out with readers’ pain for all what happened throughout the book. I can say that this book created a raging storm within me.

Yanagihara is unforgiving with the details as she unleashes the characters’ stories, memories and inner thoughts. She captures the nuances of human emotion, sphere and the changes that gradually take place. Yanagihara manages to balance out the atrocities present with the solid friendships and the family bonds, giving the reader a hint of much desired positivity.

Who am I? Who am I?” “You’re Jude St. Francis. You are my oldest, dearest friend. You’re the son of Harold Stein and Julia Altman. You’re the friend of Malcolm Irvine, of Jean-Baptiste Marion, of Richard Goldfarb, of Andy Contractor, of Lucien Voigt, of Citizen van Straaten, of Rhodes Arrowsmith, of Elijah Kozma, of Phaedra de los Santos, of the Henry Youngs. You’re a New Yorker. You live in SoHo. You volunteer for an arts organization; you volunteer for a food kitchen. You’re a swimmer. You’re a baker. You’re a cook. You’re a reader. You have a beautiful voice, though you never sing anymore. You’re an excellent pianist. You’re an art collector. You write me lovely messages when I’m away. You’re patient. You’re generous. You’re the best listener I know. You’re the smartest person I know, in every way. You’re the bravest person I know, in every way. You’re a lawyer. You’re the chair of the litigation department at Rosen Pritchard and Klein. You love your job; you work hard at it. You’re a mathematician. You’re a logician. You’ve tried to teach me, again and again. You were treated horribly. You came out on the other end. You were always you.” “And who are you?” “I’m Willem Ragnarsson. And I will never let you go.”

I cannot talk about the characters without delving into the details. I will always recommend this book with a much needed warning. If you want a read that will fill your heart to the brim and destroy it, I suggest that you delve into this book. While reading this, keep in mind that you are reading a miniature version of life, a little life.

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

A visceral, gripping and compelling read, Kate Elizabeth Russell guarantees her readers a heartbreak when they buy this book. I cannot fathom what Russell read or experienced to write such a powerful dark story. She fleshed out Vanessa’s world so solid that darkness and doubts could hardly penetrate.

Sometimes it feels like that’s all I’m doing every time I reach out—trying to haunt, to drag him back in time, asking him to tell me again what happened. Make me understand it once and for all. Because I’m still stuck here. I can’t move on.

My Dark Vanessa alternates between 2000 and 2017, recapturing the story of young Vanessa Wye, how she met her teacher Jacob Strane, their relationship, her “grooming” and the repercussions of this abusive relationship. Most importantly, the fact that Vanessa refuses to label it as abusive. The extent of realism of this story was too much at some points.

I’m a speckled seal swimming past the breakers, a seabird with a wingspan so long I can fly for miles. I’m the new moon, hidden and safe from him, from everyone.

Russell’s prose was delicate yet steadfast. It flowed smoothly as it echoed the pain and confusion of Vanessa. I admired the well-crafted details, and how Vanessa was attuned to her surroundings. Do you ever feel when a book is too heavy that the writing is a little claustrophobic? I felt that, several times. Sometimes, I just had to close the book and just breathe in and out, slowly, detach myself from what I am reading because it became too much. What I struggled with was the slow pace and the length of the book. Yet, I believe that the length of the book added much needed realistic details, and I could not help but focus on the bigger darker picture. Russell does not try to convince you to hate Strane or see him as manipulative or even see what’s beyond the character, she lays it as it is, she gives depth to us as a readers where she allows us to see it all unfurling.

“I can’t lose the thing I’ve held onto for so long, you know?” My face twists up from the pain of pushing it out. “I just really need it to be a love story, you know? I really, really need it to be that.”
“I know,” she says.
“Because if it isn’t a love story, then what is it”? I look to her glassy eyes, her face of wide open empathy. “It’s my life,” I say. “This has been my whole life.”

This is no escape fiction, you are not going to escape into some fantasy land where Vanessa is a likeable princess. Vanessa Wye encompasses readers within her dilemma and struggle. This is a story of Vanessa’s paradox as she tries to hold on and free herself from the memory, the memory of her being his dark Vanessa.

My rating: 5 stars.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe through his tale, Things Fall Apart, invites one to delve deep into the juxtapositions that are the layers of this story. This is not just a story about colonialism. It is one about Umiofia the village, the tight-knit community, and Okonkwo the hero, and most importantly, the strong and prideful male.

There is no story that is not true, […] The world has no end, and what is good among one people is an abomination with others.

Throughout the novel, Achebe delves deep into the layers and the differences between males and females, the hierarchy among the people and beginnings of colonialism. It has always been same old same old where we only get to see what life was like for those people after colonialism. However, Achebe offers us -more than- a glimpse to life before.

‘It’s true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is supreme. Is it right that you, Okonkwo, should bring your mother a heavy face and refuse to be comforted?

This was not an easy read. It takes some time to get used to the language and the different traditions. I struggled with the fact that I was not eased into the novel, or maybe I am used to easy ones? However, a little bit past halfway, the book intrigued me even more, and I flew through the last chapters, hence the four stars.

This novel is timeless, and the ending awoke a lot of senses within me. This sharp contrast to the past 200 pages was effective. I was stuck and I did not want the book to end anymore. Okonkwo took his own decision and became in control of his own life, showing how a man deals with life when things fall apart.

My rating: 4 stars.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Reading this book so soon after finishing Mrs Dalloway was the best choice I have ever made. Those two books are very entertwined, one could feel Mrs Dalloway shadowing The Hours and its characters with a sense of subtlety. This was definitely a terrific follow-up to Mrs Dalloway.

“She thinks of how much more space a being occupies in life than it does in death; how much illusion of size is contained in gestures and movements, in breathing. Dead, we are revealed in our true dimensions, and they are surprisingly modest.”

Cunningham has his own way of posing things. His prose and eloquency might have been the highlight of this novel. This inter-connectedness between the three women -Virginia, Laura and Clarissa- was well-executed. The smooth transition between the timelines was done effortlessly. Additionally, the intertextuality between Mrs Dalloway and The Hours was just the cherry on top.

“She inhales deeply. It is so beautiful: it is so much more than … well, than almost anything, really. In another world, she might have spent her whole life reading. But this is the new world, the rescued world — there’s not much room for idleness. So much has been risked and lost; so many have died.”

This book deals with heavy topics such as terminal diseases, suicide, domesticity and sexuality. Navigating through this was like trying to maneuver some large scale exercises without falling under or getting sucked into the daily chatter going on in life.

Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway came to life with Cunningham’s strokes on paper. He managed to conjure up Woolf’s impressionistic mind in his own way. I cannot lie, sometimes, The Hours felt a little bit audacious, but I kept coming back for more. I re-read few passages and highlighted one too many. Can one dare say that Cunningham acted as Woolf’s translator?

Dear Leonard. To look life in the face. Always to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it. To love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. Leonard. Always the years between us. Always the years. Always the love. Always the hours.

One hour after the other compile the hours where beings search for a meaning behind their life and try to elude the pain and the shadows that seem to follow every step of the way, acting as the “devil”.

My rating: 5 stars.

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