Lolita is one of my favorite books ever, and Nabokov is easy top-3 author (with Henry James and Marcel Proust).
Humbert Humbert is so obviously a vill...moreLolita is one of my favorite books ever, and Nabokov is easy top-3 author (with Henry James and Marcel Proust).
Humbert Humbert is so obviously a villain, so obviously a bad-guy, but his prose is so enchanting that it seduces you as a reader! He puts questions in your mouth, and distracts you from the truth, and romanticizes the horrors of Lolita's childhood. Yet you can't help but feel a little bad for H.H., but without knowing why you feel bad. The language is par-none, and the book is tragic-comedy par-excellence.
H.H.'s love for Lolita is a sickness, a compulsion, and at the same time a fairy tale. H.H.'s self-proclaimed feelings for Lolita are almost vulgar cliches, but they play into our own literary heuristics of love and romance, that we almost sympathize that Lolita doesn't love him the same.
This is a book that I think must be read twice. When I re-read it I will add to this review.
Alice in Wonderland (and Through the Looking-glass) is so much more than a children's book, or a trippy book for high teens, or whatever. It's an adve...moreAlice in Wonderland (and Through the Looking-glass) is so much more than a children's book, or a trippy book for high teens, or whatever. It's an adventure of logoleptical bliss. Each book feels more like a game than anything else, a card game, or a chess game, which follows the petit heroine through her oneiric wonderland.
Loaded with puns, poems, portmanteau and general wordplay, it's just simply a fun book to read, without the pressure to search for subliminal meanings and Freudian symbols, or other nonsense that you're as likely to find in a Cracker Barrel advertisement as anywhere else.
I preferred the play in Through the Looking-glass, though there is a sort of mesmerizing originality to Alice's original Adventures.(less)
Henry James's The Wings of the Dove is the first published of his three masterpieces of his "late phase." It tells the story of Kate Croy, and her lov...moreHenry James's The Wings of the Dove is the first published of his three masterpieces of his "late phase." It tells the story of Kate Croy, and her love for Merton Densher. The only thing that keeps them apart is that their marriage would cast her out of her aunt's protection (financial and social), and leave them both penniless. Milly Theale, an extremely wealthy orphan from America, arrives on the scene and befriends Kate. Kate concocts a plan to foist Merton on Milly and have them fall in love so that Milly will leave her money to him when she dies - which will occur soon since she is terminally ill. The plot is rather simple and mostly action-less, per James' style, but the depth of psychological and ethical analysis of the characters is truly fascinating.
The character of Milly Theale is based strongly on James's own cousin Minny, for whom he had a great deal of affection, and who was also the inspiration for Isabel in Portrait of a Lady. She is an eccentric and very sympathetic character, and her desire to experience life certainly contrasts Kate's desire to experience the means of enjoying life, culminating in her pecuniary plot. One thing that surprised me was the extent to which I developed a strong dislike for Merton - exceeding even the direct and ostensible evil of Kate's plan. He is such an ethical milquetoast, that his nonchalant acceptance of Kate's plan drew hard criticism from me as a reader.
Of all the James that I have read, I think this story's ending is the most heart-breakingly sad. The plights of Daisy Miller and Isabel Archer seem happy compared to the utter array of moral destitution and disappointment realized at the novel's conclusion. Even one characters moral redemption precludes another's potential happiness.
I will admit that the novel's style, being of James's late phase is difficult to say the least. It is oblique and long-winded, and he sometimes loses you in his psychical descriptions. I found that reading very fast was the only way to keep my mind from wandering in the labyrinths of James's prose.
Overall, MUCH better, and far more emotional than the 1997 movie with Helena Bonham Carter (the one with the ingratiating sex scenes which would have made the repressed James turn over in his grave). READ IT!(less)
Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" is a truly compelling study of European colonization and exploitation of Africa, and the evils it imbued in those who par...moreConrad's "Heart of Darkness" is a truly compelling study of European colonization and exploitation of Africa, and the evils it imbued in those who partook in those exploits.
"Heart of Darkness" is a frame story (or, a "story withing a story"). The frame is of a group of men on a boat travelling down the Thames at dusk (turning into night - paralleling the descent into the darkness of the internal story), listening to a seaman, Marlow, tell a story about his experience as captain of a riverboat in the Congo. Marlow is a seaman by nature, with no attachments to any home other than the sea. He pursues and opportunity to work on a riverboat in Central Africa. Upon arriving in the dense jungle, he begins to hear about a "remarkable" man/genius/ivory-prodigy named Kurtz who is stationed upstream from his own post. After a number of months spent fixing his tin-can of a riverboat (despite a desperate need for rivets! rivets!), he begins his descent into the "heart of darkness" - Kurtz's post down the river. His journey reveals the corruption, evil, and disjointedness of those living in the jungle.
The prose of this dark story of the corruption of human nature is beautiful. The journey is rife with symbolism and beautifully portentous imagery. There is a prevailing suspense from the beginning of Marlow's tale, culminating in a Poe-esque realization - "The horror! The Horror!"
Despite the negative criticism from Chinua Achebe (author of "Things Fall Apart") of the portrayal of the African natives as speechless and uncivilized "cannibals," the story is very poignant. It should be remarked that the novel is told from the perspective of a European writing the perspective of an Englishman traveling to the Congo, and the prevailing language of the period. That said, I did not find the portrayal of the natives to be dehumanizing, in fact Marlow makes the point of humanizing them, elevating his horror.
I strongly recommend "Heart of Darkness" to anyone - it is a very quick read, and can easily be finished within a day - and is well worth the small effort!(less)
There's nothing I can say about this that Barthes doesn't say better:
"The world subjects every enterprise to an alternative; that of success or failur...moreThere's nothing I can say about this that Barthes doesn't say better:
"The world subjects every enterprise to an alternative; that of success or failure, of victory or defeat... Flouted in my enterprise (as it happens), I emerge from it neither victor nor vanquished: I am tragic. (Someone tells me: this kind of love is not viable. But how can you evaluate viability? Why is the viable a Good Thing? Why is it better to last than to burn?"
“Am I in love? --yes, since I am waiting. The other one never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn't wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game. Whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover's fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits.”(less)
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James - Oh, Where to begin!? First off: this is one of my personal favorites. The language has a subtlety, and opacity,...moreThe Turn of the Screw by Henry James - Oh, Where to begin!? First off: this is one of my personal favorites. The language has a subtlety, and opacity, and an ambiguity which endorses this novella to be read multiple times. In fact, I think to appreciate it, you should read it at least twice: you pick up little things the second time around.
This is a frame story: the novella opens up with people telling ghost stories around a fire on Christmas Eve. One of the attendants claims to have an especially haunting tale which has "another turn of the screw" due to the inclusion of children. The main tale is the first-person account of a governess attending to two children in the English county estate of Bly. She is the daughter of a vicar, and has had a very sheltered childhood: but she seems to be quite enamored with her employer, and then quite taken with her innocent young pupils: Miles and Flora. As the summer progresses, the governess begins to grow suspicious of her pupils, and also begins to see the specters of Peter Quint and Ms. Jessel, the previous governess. Shes sets herself to protect the children from being corrupted by the two wraiths, who in their lives had an affair at Bly, and Mr. Quint was a notoriously evil man to the women of the estate.
As with many of James' other novels, a central theme is the corruption of innocence, and in this story it is manifest both in the governess's attempts to prevent the corruption of the children, and also in her subconsciously trying to prevent her own corruption. This tension is a powerful driving force throughout the novel, which is compelled forward by the motive force of James' portentous prose. I've read this novella a number of times, and each time I try to look at it from a different perspective, and each time I discover another layer which I didn't appreciate or note on my previous reads.
While it can be read as a ghost story, or a psychological thriller, it has far more literary value than either of those genres tend to illicit. For one, James must be read slowly and laboriously. He is difficult, he is ambiguous, but he is worth it, and so is The Turn of the Screw - just give it the chance!
Definitely a five-star worthy novella - and I feel it stands strong against most full length novels, which is impressive given the brevity.(less)
Henry James' Portrait of a Lady is truly a literary masterpiece. The story of the independent and freedom-loving Isabel Archer as she experiences the...moreHenry James' Portrait of a Lady is truly a literary masterpiece. The story of the independent and freedom-loving Isabel Archer as she experiences the beauties and betrayals of the Old World. In William Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he claimed that the heart of literature is the human heart in conflict with itself; the tragedy of Isabel Archer is so perfect a portrait of this it could seem that Faulkner was refering to it specifically. The opposing forces in Ms. Archer's heart are her devotion to personal freedom, to her independence, against her honor, pride and reverence for social convention.
What made The Portrait of a Lady so easy and enjoyable to read was that the story seemed propelled purely by the magnetism of the characters and their environments, rather than machinations of plot. I found myself powerfully interested in her future, but also fighting with her (somewhat antiquated) deference for marital duty. In many ways, I felt the tragedy of Isabel Archer reminded me very vividly of that of Daisy Miller; in fact, Daisy Miller struck me the overture to Portrait of a Lady.
Henry James is a powerful painter of scene, and this is an exemplary novel to get introduced to his style (before it got much more opaque in his later phase). His minimal use of physical description, but vivid use of less tangible descriptions of sense make for a unique experience. Where physical descriptions assign the reader to the role of spectator, James' sensory intimations prescribe the reader to a more active, participatory role. In many ways I felt that James' novels began to bridge the chasm between French realism and the "modern" style of stream-of-consciousness.
For those who complain of the ending: I think you are missing the deeper meaning in the novel, and perhaps being too caught up in plot. At the time, the allure of the old world, with its subtleties and conventions, was very strong, even despite the loss of independence. Even James himself was drawn in to the somewhat decadent romance of the Old World, and spent much of his adult life traveling the continent. The message and tragedy at the end is a strong one.(less)
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton totally deserves the 5-star rating. The story follows Lily Bart, a precocious and gregarious social climber in the...moreThe House of Mirth by Edith Wharton totally deserves the 5-star rating. The story follows Lily Bart, a precocious and gregarious social climber in the late 1800's. She is constantly making missteps and errors in her social climb, resulting from the tension between her own desires and the expectations imposed by a society on the fringe of which she exists.
What I found most compelling, and what I felt differentiated this book from other novels of the period centered on social climbers, was that Lily is very much aware of the shallowness and ennui which would await her should she make it into this exclusive society. There is a clear inner struggle between the dying wishes of her material mother and her own moral code. Many times she is confronted with opportunities to immediately thrust her into what she outwardly claims to desire, but her conscience makes her reluctant. The reader will often find themselves both cursing Lily for her missteps, but also understanding her motives - it made me wonder what I might do in that situation; would I have the moral bankruptcy to commit to some of the necessary opportunities for my own social success? Or might I be reduce to a lifetime in Lily's endearing millinery phase?
Wharton is an excellent writer of prose, and she paints beautiful pictures of the society in which she lived. Her style of writing is similar to that of Henry James in his early phase (or in his short fiction); it is both beautiful and accessible (unlike James' later phase). Her characters are beautifully developed and are logical in their motives. Anyone acquainted with, even today's, upper class or upper middle class, can certainly relate to people like the Dorsets, or even perhaps Lily Bart (though social climbing seems to be a more subtle motive these days, since the expansion of women's rights).
Overall this is an excellent story of Gilded Age America, and of social climbing, decadence and love in that period. I highly would recommend it to anyone.(less)