review: the enchanter

06 January 2014

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: libary
pages: 95-96
review written: 6.1.14
edition read: G.P. Putnam's Sons, NY
originally published: 1986

The Enchanter is the Ur-Lolita, the precursor to Nabokov's classic novel. At once hilarious and chilling, it tells the story of an outwardly respectable man and his fatal obsession with certain pubescent girls, whose coltish grace and subconscious coquetry reveal, to his mind, a special bud on the verge of bloom. (Summary from goodreads)

My thoughts:
The Enchanter is a short novel written by Vladimir Nabokov as is classified as Russian literature and as a classic. The title "The Enchanter" is a nickname that the protagonist gives himself in a certain scene with a pubescent girl. Nabokov wrote a pre-face describing this book as a precursor to Lolita. He called it "a beautiful piece of Russian prose, precise and lucid...". I have to agree with him on that part. Now, the book covers were all really...unfitting for as strange and simple a book as this--and this cover by Penguin was one that I thought fit the story best. With around one hundred pages, every tiny detail is important, and the toy horse is one of them. I enjoy this cover too, with the little girl in the background, and the faint flower behind the horse. But you know, the version I read was garishly old and the cover was not pleasing to the eyes.

It all started when my friend, Deniz and I went to the library to get some books. We naturally went to the classics, and Deniz found Lolita. She described to me what her friend had told her--the basic synopsis of the book. It was the story of a man who married a woman because he lusted after her young daughter (I imagined her as eight years old). The idea of getting inside a paedophile's head was immensely interesting to me, but Deniz had gotten the last copy of Lolita at the library, so naturally I was disappointed. Being the good friend that she is, she found this book, The Enchanter,  which was a precursor to Lolita and was basically the same thing. Ayn Rand did this with her books too, starting off with a short hundred-page Anthem and building up to a massive Atlas Shrugged. Similarly, The Enchanter is less than a hundred pages and Lolita  is over three hundred pages.

What I noticed first was the incredibly detailed and philosophical way Nabokov writes, which is to be expected because he's a Russian writer. He starts off with a statement from the main character, a forty-year old, "respectable" man "How can I come to terms with myself?". This gained sympathy from me. At least the paedophile knew that his thoughts were abnormal, and not in the good way. But despite his conflicted thoughts, the thoughts themselves made me lose sympathy. He said that he did not intend to ever rape the girl, that when she wanted to explore her sexuality, he would be there. But his actions do not reflect his intentions. He ends up touching her anyway. I felt little sympathy for the nameless protagonist, and yet I was shocked at myself for being fascinated in the same way he was. Of course, I felt myself vomit with the descriptions of a pre-adolescent girl written as if she were a sexually appealing woman. But the way it was written was oddly fascinating.

"The girl's arrival, her breathing, her legs, her hair, everything she did, whether it was scratching a shin and leaving white marks on it, or throwing a small black ball high in the air, or brushing against him with a bare elbow as she seated herself on the bench--all of it (while he appeared engrossed in pleasant conversation) evoked an intolerable sensation of sanguine, dermal, multivascular communion with her as if the monstrous bisector pumping all the juices from the depths of his being extended into her like a pulsating dotted line, as if this girl were growing out of him...." (53).
I felt disgusted with that. Yet, you must agree with me, that was an interesting description? Regardless, the entire book follows that way and it doesn't take very long to finish it. Apparently, Nabokov had a childhood love that died and he remembered her when he met a woman of twenty years and thus wrote of his childhood love. They kissed, but got no further. Nabokov had a more active romantic life than I did--when I was that age, all I thought about was getting candy.

Regardless of subject matter, the writing itself was rich and fascinating.

"Knowing, rationally, that the Euphrates apricot* is harmful only in canned form; that sin is inseparable from civic custom; that all hygienes have their hyenas; knowing, moreover, that this selfsame rationality is not averse to vulgarising that to which it is otherwise denied access....I now discard all that and ascend to a higher plan" (22)
* thought by some to have been the true identity of the Biblical apple
 This is something I've read over and over again and that I can't forgot nor can I comprehend. "the Euphrates apricot is harmful only in canned form"--what does this mean? The amount of religious reference in this bit is more than any references he's made in the whole story.The last bit about ascending to a higher plane indicates what religion basically is, and the Euphrates apricot is a direct Christian reference. The protagonist is speaking of his "vulgarity" as if it's something....oh I'll think on this. What do you all think of this quote?

The unnamed protagonist disgusted me, and to make a reader hate the main character is skilful on the writer's part. The other characters, the little girl, her mother, and an old woman that took care of the girl, were all women. It surprised me that the protagonist was the only male at the scene, and I would like to think that somehow this is a significant detail. Kind of like a reverse of an enchantress that ensnares men--an enchanter that ensnares women. The overall theme, I think, was the conflict between morality and desire. Yet not completely so because the protagonist at a certain point stops worrying about morality and changes his mindset to that of a predator. He had a prey, a goal, and he acted and waited patiently to achieve it. I guess the theme then is open for interpretation.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a quick read, but not entirely developed as it will be in Lolita. If you want to read something quickly, but you want your brain to be enriched with something controversial, try The Enchanter. I give this book 3 out of 6 umbrellas.

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