Lolita and The Good People

I only read Lolita for the first time last year. It immediately became my favourite book. I read it after its mention in an article written by Karl Ove Knaussguard whose My Struggle series I’d been sucked into a while previously. It’s a wonderful piece about his own road trip across America, rife with humour, beauty and insight.

The lyrical, epic, tragic but never Acardian American wilds. They are beautiful, heart-rendingly beautiful, those wilds, with a quality of wide-eyed, unsung, innocent surrender that my lacquered, toy-bright Swiss villages and exhaustively lauded Alps no longer possess.

The language of Lolita is exquisite. It’s almost too exquisite to bear. I drowned it its richness, its daring, its breath-taking rule-breaking ostentation. When I caught myself in toe-curling anticipation of Humbert Humbert’s completely sick and predatory subjugation of a child, I really had to question where his language had transported me. I loved HH but he was a monster! Oh… the shame, and the struggle within.

…She kept up a burlesque babble…

…An obese newspaper..

…The setting was really perfect for brisk bubbling murder….

….under dripping trees…

…fragrant vagabond thoughts…

…the vile and beloved slut….

Every single sentence is a work of art.

I work in the world of English language teaching where the butchery of our fine vernacular is an every day occurrence. Though ironically, making mistakes and massacring a language is indeed a rite of passage to its mastery. I engaged heatedly with bookish ESL chums over how Nabokov, with his non-native tongue could have accomplished the sumptuous feat that is Lolita. One suggested he was a freak but that his Russianness helped. His insight was that Russian writers could be really ornate and perhaps Nabokov just married two great styles and a unique child was born. I personally think it’s English not being his mother tongue that allowed him such license and creativity with his language. Nabokov used a different set of rules to break the rules.

I live in a world where the natives insist on stripping down, simplifying and extracting the inherent beauty of our English on a daily basis. And sadly I am most often one of them. So to be able to luxuriate in Lolita’s 317 pages of grotesque loveliness was simply heavenly.

Hannah Kent’s The Good People is another example of truly poetic writing. It is the perfect follow up to Burial Rites, another dread-laden page turner. I found Burial Rites induced such stimulating visuals, I felt as if I was watching a film rather than reading a novel. The Good People bleeds along a similar vein. HK uses the language to engross you in an eerie world where you feel you are wholly present. I could feel the bitter biting cold of the Gaelic winter, the abject misery and the desperate loneliness of the widow. My body involuntarily recoiled with repulsion at the cretinous drooling child, yet I wanted to reach out and nurse his contorted limbs. And the hairs on the back of my neck shot up with every reference to the faeries.

Of course, the hours and scope of the research that must have gone into both Burial Rites and The Good People is phenomenal. There is something so admirable about such a young person’s dedication to the exploration of these esoteric worlds. Especially when she has the talent to just write about any old subject and make it sound like Parnassian verse.

‘Their laughter snuffed.’ is a perfect example of the beauty of her language. A three word sentence which conveys the meaning of what most people couldn’t in a page or more. Oh HK, I’m looking forward ever so much to your next book…please get cracking!

A toppling we will go!

Welcome to the Matriarchy!

We wore the the much anticipated t-shirts we’d ordered from Red Bubble at work on Friday, and got as many compliments from the menfolk as we did from the womenfolk. That’s because we work in a fully-functioning matriarchy. Then CEO is female, the head of the academic department and her assistant are female, and in fact, bar our one token male, all the full-time staff are female. Two male assistant academic managers have come and bitten the dust, their egos between their legs, unable to work for younger, smarter, more capable females.

Our token male enjoys our company, our cooperation, our consideration, our lack of ego…he has no desire to work with a bunch of blokes. The teaching staff, all casual, are 50% male and I’m sure they have no longing to work for a couple of dudes either. They enjoy being nurtured, treated with care and respect and again, not having to deal with egotism, a common feature of the patriarchal working environment.

Three seasons of the brilliant and hilarious Transparent had had me hungry for knowledge about the writer/director Jill Solloway. My own Internet searches and an introduction to the poetess Eileen Myles by my feminism-canny assistant, had me astounded at the real-life basis for Transparent’s whacky storylines. And Jill and Eileen’s Topple the Patriarchy manifesto had me in stitches (topplethepatriarchy.com). What a utopia they present!

But actually, why did it make me laugh? Why is it so impossible to imagine a world where women occupy the positions currently held by men? Perhaps the copy of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland on my bedside table may give me the insight I need.

You don’t need to act like a man to be successful in a position of power. The matriarchal microcosm I inhabit functions and it functions well, with the full support of the men we have employed. Smart men. Men who are feminists. Men who understand that life is better, for everyone, once all the patriarchal bullshit has been flushed away. 

Allied, Arrival and Elle.

The only cinema in Byron Bay is at the Pig Factory. It’s darling little affair with mattresses and pillows up the front where you can fully stretch out, secure in the knowledge that whatever smaltzy Hollywood fare they serve up, you’ll at least be enduring it from a comfortable vantage. And with the added option of taking a nap if the film is truly appalling.

Jackie and I were in the mood to see a movie that night. Allied was the only thing playing. ‘Brad Pitt can’t act!’ said she. ‘No,’ I countered ‘he just can’t pull off a lead role’. I proffered his performances in True Romance, California and Thelma and Louise as examples of excellent non-leading man handiwork. Tickets in hand we mosied on down to the front of the theatre where there were three spots available next to a solitary man. He eyeballed the two of us and declared there was only one spot available. Sceptical, we meekly took an upright seat instead. His one mate soon arrived and they starfished out taking up TWO seats each. I hissed at Jackie, outraged at their greed and blatant cheek. He kept up the pretense of others arriving by looking back at the entrance doors every couple of minutes even through the opening credits. I fumed.

Allied looks like a heap of shit and it is indeed, a steaming pile of dung. The story is completely implausible, the writing woeful and the acting third-rate at best. It’s clunky, unsophisticated and has a distinct ‘shot-in-the-studio’ feel. And from the director who made the legendary Back to the Future movies and the fantasically dark and bloodthirsty Beowulf animation?? Tsk, tsk…out of 10 I’d give it a 1. Though taking a sledge at that mattress-hogging wiener as the credits rolled somehow made it all worthwhile.

We took in Arrival the next night in pole position. A neat-looking ovoid flying saucer and the representation of aliens as the offspring of an elephant and a giant squid made it possible to endure the pointless performance of Forrest Whitaker, the plethora of dramatic close ups of Amy Adams acting with her eyes and the octagenarian’s pace at which it all unfurled. The central theme was America will be wholly responsible for world peace. Bluurgh. Better than Allied though. We managed to stay awake in our horizontal locus.

I’d seen Elle at the Gold Goast Arts Cinema the week before. Expectations were high as the director was Paul Verhoeven, responsible for the highly entertaining, ultra-violent, smart-sci-fi offerings Robo-Cop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers.

I was struck again by how French movies don’t seem to begin or end, they just are. The true antithesis of your typical Hollywood fare, there are no explanations, no obvious themes and you’re often left feeling discombobulated yet strangely satisfied. Elle was no exception. The plot is bizarre, edging on absurd, but delightfully so. The CEO of a computer-game company which glorifies sexualised violence towards women, is savagely raped in her home but instead of reporting it to the police, goes about her business, seemingly unfazed, even when she realises she is being stalked. Further she is the daughter of a notorious mass murderer who butchered everyone in their street including the pets when she was just a child.

The quirky humour embedded throughout serves effectively as a device to assist in recovery between the grotesque rape scenes, which leave you confused as to whether they are gratuitous or essential to the story. Further, the film doesn’t appear to tender any theme or message: the link between this woman’s attitude to the derogatory nature of her work with regards to women and being the victim of a violent sexual crime is unclear, as is the relevance of her father’s slaughter. A movie that engrosses you, has you recoiling, laughing and well off-kilter, a movie that you need to discuss with others in order to process it, all tied together with a wonderfully strong female lead….now that’s the type of movie I want to watch.