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!