Book Review: Lolita

Title: Lolita

Author: Vladimir Nabokov

Rating: 4/5

Publisher: Penguin, Penguin Classics

Synopsis

Lolita, is a first person narrative novel, told through the eyes of a middle aged professor, Humbert Humbert. Humbert develops an obsession with a twelve year old girl, Dolores Haze, who he pursues for the rest of his days. Humbert nicknames his prey, Lolita, and attempts to gain greater access to her, in becoming a lodger at her Mother’s house in Ramsdale, New England.

It is here, where Humbert builds upon his disguse of being the studious professor, working on writing his book. However, this is when the access, and consequently, obsession, with Lolita begins. Soon, he will have unrivaled access, as he marries Charlotte, Lolita’s mother.

After a tragic set of events working in his favour, Lolita and Humbert embark on a road trip across America, staying in various motels along the way. Throughout this, Humbert engages in sexual activity with Lolita and constantly rewards her with the ‘things’ she desires – the mundane clothes, candy and magazines that young girls crave.

Eventually, of course, Humbert gets caught and his pursuit of Lolita suddenly comes to an end. The novel ends with Humbert imprisoned but still professing his love for Lolita,

“It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.”

Vladimir Nabokov

Review

Image: Amazon

This novel made me experience a whirlwind of different emotions. Simultaneously, I was in awe of the construction of the novel and the sheer complexity of some of the images and prose Nabokov has created, but at the same time, was reeling in disgust due to the difficulties of the content. Scenes that detailed Humbert’s sexual encounters with Lolita, and his portrayal of lingering desire for young girls in general, left me with a sense of rage and disgust.

Nabokov, in the use of this first person narrative, creates an unrivaled account of a middle aged man’s erotic obsession with a twelve year old girl. This unrivaled account which has been deemed as “unreliable” by critics, means that Lolita’s point of view is swept away under the carpet. As readers, we are never enlightened into her perspective. Thus, there are many unanswered questions. Effectively, she is silenced, which I suspect is the very point. Additionally, the relationship is almost normalised, especially by the use of ‘relationship’ type prose throughout,

“I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita.”

Vladimir Nabokov

Moreover, the silencing of the victim is achieved in the crafting of this first person narrative. Many (i.e, Stephen Metcalf), have pointed to this as being Nabokov’s critique of totalitarianism under the Soviet regime. Nabokov was a known opponent of the Soviet government and opposed Tsarists autocracy, communism and fascism that he lived through. It is possible, that this silencing of Lolita, the stripping of her identity and childhood, conveys a sense of control not too dissimilar to that used by the Soviet regime.

Lolita immediately gained a ‘classic’ status despite its controversial topic, it was even banned from entering the United Kingdom in 1955. However, its classic status is arguably not due to the story or unconventional theme; but its literary construction. The reader is constantly exposed to a series of complex metaphors and lyric poetic passages that make it easy to forget the shocking undertones of the novel. It can be easy to get swept away by the beauty of the language and forget that something very sinister is taking place on the pages before you. However, as someone that is a sucker for beautiful prose, I appreciated this element.

What struck me as particularly strange and almost sinister, was Humbert’s own self awareness of the horror of his actions and desires. He constantly addresses the reader as “the jury” – putting himself deliberately on trial. But the novel is a monologue of his own account and he always refers to the brutality of his crimes,

“One moment I was ashamed and frightened, another recklessly optimisitc. Taboos strangulated me.”

Vladimir Nabokov

However, regardless of the morality Humbert places on his actions, there is a certain directness in his address to the reader and the narration almost feels like a sit down conversation between him and the reader. There is a sense of intimacy which is enlightening and highly disturbing. Behind everything, and perhaps most of his motivations, appears to be Humbert’s absolute frustration with the restraints of American society,

“….civilisation which allows a man of twenty-five to court a girl of sixteen but not a girl of twelve…”

“We are not surrounded in our enlighttened era by the little slave flowers that can be casually plucked…”

Vladimir Nabokov

I sensed a definitive obsession with what he perceived as the faults within society – for, the one he lived in permitted his relationship with a twelve year old girl. He believes these rules are in place due to the creation division between childhood and adulthood (page 124.)

Humbert as a narrator is truly, and honestly, self reflective which felt like an attempt to appear more human. However, despite this level of self reflection and awareness, he still maintained at the end of the novel that despite his obsession with Lolita being over, he would always crave the same thing,

“I would be a knave to say, and the reader a fool to believe, that the shock of losing Lolita cured me of my pederoins.”

Vladimir Nabokov

In a way, being able to acknowledge himself as a, “pentapod monster” who did wrong, but still wanting to pursue this, is the mark of a truly disturbed, and possibly incurable individual.

In sum, I found the book incredibly well written and thought provoking. I enjoyed the kind of lyricism Nabokov used and was drawn into the first person narration despite its flaws. There were no barriers or restraint, which made it an interesting psychological insight, as well as a literary joy to read.

This complex first person narration gives the reader nowhere to hide. It is compelling, disturbing and unforgiving. But its craft is a work of art just in itself. This paradox between the beauty of the prose, and the harrowing, disturbing nature of the subject fills the novel with complexity. I can see why this is a a classic; Lolita will linger with me for a long time to come.

Going back to Orwell: 70 years on

The Essays of Orwell: Books Vs Cigarettes 1946

Before thinking about writing this post, it hadn’t occurred to me that today is the 70th anniversary of George Orwell’s death, until reading something published by the BBC. Recently, I have been thinking a lot about his life, his writing and political outlook.

Who was George Orwell?

Known most for Animal Farm and 1984, Eric Blair, writing under the pen name, George Orwell, has come to be one of the most famous author’s of the twentieth century. Born in Bengal, Orwell would go on to win two scholarships at two prestigious English schools, Wellington and Eton.

After completing his education, Orwell became an Imperial Servant. This was the beginning of the period in which Orwell was manifesting his political outlook, in 1928, he resigned from the post, as influenced by rising anti-imperialist sentiment.

After this experience; Orwell tried to immerse himself in the realities of deprivation; he donned rags as he went to London’s East End and the poorest areas of Paris. Which later, formed the book, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). This is often cited as Orwell’s first socialist memoir and insight into poverty. Later publishing, The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) which is an even greater exploration of these themes. Wigan Pier deals with the conditions that working-class individuals were experiencing in Lancashire and Yorkshire, before the outbreak of World War Two.

Orwell is remembered primarily because of 1984, but during his time, he was a prolific figure in the more radical politics of the day. He was first of all, a self confessed anarchist, then came out as a socialist in the 1930s, against the rising tide of fascism. After being rejected for military service during the Second World War, he began working for the left-wing magazine, Tribune in 1943.

In this post however, it is not his novels I want to talk about, but rather, his essays. Having read 1984, Down and Out in Paris and London, Animal Farm and The Clergyman’s Daughter, I thought I knew Orwell quite well, until I started to discover his essays. This post in particular, will be discussing one essay, titled, “Books Vs Cigarettes” which Orwell published in 1946 in the Tribune.

Books Vs Cigarettes (1946)

Writing in 1946, after the end of World War Two, this essay is in response to the idea that reading is an expensive and inaccessible past time. This idea is often thwarted about in our own society, with the assumption it is a privilege that people in 9-5’s cannot afford. Orwell is therefore, critiquing the assumption that reading is a luxury activity.

Orwell in a convincing argument, states that mundane habits such as smoking and drinking, will cost the average person (per year) more than it would to sustain a reading habit. He details his own spending, Orwell was a heavy smoker himself, which cost him more than he spent on books per year.

Take this framework into today. The average Netflix, Amazon Prime or Spotify subscription probably amounts to being able to buy 1-2 new paperbacks per month. Or even better, when buying secondhand, probably 3-5, or even more, depending on the price. Orwell makes the point that there are far more expensive habits which are permitted among the populous, but reading is discounted as being a costly luxury.

Orwell also emphasizes the importance of buying second-hand books and borrowing from local libraries, friends or family which I think is important to point out. Reading doesn’t have to be an expensive habit, nor does it have to revolve around you owning the material you are consuming.

Additionally – Orwell goes on to highlight that the value of reading should not be purely in monetary terms, as one book can have a lifelong impact. (Indeed, 1984 itself is often sighted as a book which has changed the outlook of many readers, myself included.)

The impact of reading one book is worth more than its monetary cost, due to the longevity of the ideas it can plant,

“There are books that one reads over and over again, books that become part of the furniture of one’s mind and alter one’s attitude to life…”

George Orwell, “Books Vs Cigarettes,” 1946.

Final thoughts

Thus, in sum, Orwell argues that in fact, reading is one of the cheapest forms of, “recreations” and it is wrong to assume books are “less exciting” or not so worthy of spending time on. I feel this point is significantly applicable to now – with evenings easily absorbed by Instagram or watching YouTube on the loop. Reading is in fact, one of the most worthwhile past times, which does not have to cost you an arm and a leg.

On the anniversary of Orwell’s death; perhaps this should serve as a reminder that books are powerful and some books certainly leave their marks; on the way we think, view the world, and form opinions; in the most permanent of ways.

Furthermore, reading is not a luxury but a form of “recreation,” which is often brushed under the carpet in an age of so many other forms of entertainment. What would Orwell think? We can only guess.

I will be attempting to read as many of Orwell’s essays this year as I can, to try and understand the way he thought, and how this influenced his writing. I will keep you updated!

References

https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Orwell/Animal-Farm-and-Nineteen-Eighty-four

Link to the article: https://orwell.ru/library/articles/cigar/english/e_cigar

This is interesting too, was published by the BBC today: https://www.bbc.co.uk/ideas/videos/would-george-orwell-have-had-a-smartphone/p080x74t

Daily prompt: “vast”

In response to, Your Daily Word Prompt, January 17, “vast.”

Vast,

adjective, vast·er, vast·est.

“of very great area or extent; immense:the vast reaches of outer space.of very great size or proportions; huge; enormous:vast piles of rubble left in the wake of the war.very great in number, quantity, amount, etc.:vast sums of money.very great in degree, intensity, etc.:an artisan of vast skill.”

Image: Pixabay

Empty hours loom ahead, like dark foreboding clouds that gather in clusters for the storm. Minutes take hours to go by and hours feel like days. All that is before and ahead, is the emptiness of time. Time is all we have in our short existence, but in the present during empty days and nights, it feels like it could never not be abundant.

When I close my eyes to get a moment of peace, I like to think of a dense forest, somewhere in Scandinavia. Somewhere where the endless stretch of trees stand before you and all that remains is the green depths of above and beyond. As far as the eye can see is a pure, green, and unspoiled landscape, too immense for the human mind to comprehend. This vision satisfies me somewhat.

But then I turn back to the present and all I have is numbers before me. And then, all I have is empty years and plentiful fears to carry me backwards and forwards.

Sleepless nights. Filled with tosses and turns. This is the moment most of all, where time appears to be endless. Everything slows down in the frustrating depths of the night when everyone is asleep. It always stands still, for that one moment when you wish it could ceaselessly stride ahead.

Time is vast. And vast is empty time.

This prompt reminded me of one of my favourite quotes from The Great Gatsby,

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

https://onedailyprompt.wordpress.com/2020/01/17/your-daily-word-prompt-vast-january-17-2020/   

My (Current) Preference for Labour Leader

Image: BBC

When I was seventeen, I signed up to join the Labour Party, and have been a member since. This election was the first time I began to become active in the party, alas the election defeat left me very deflated about who to vote for and how.

I am constantly torn between voting for a candidate I truly believe in or to vote for someone who is perhaps, more ‘electable’ – whatever that means.

This article will act as an overview of my current thoughts about the candidates and order of preference.

Rebecca Long-Bailey MP for Salford and Eccles (1)

Like many Labour voters, I truly believed in the policies which were in 2019’s manifesto. For once, politics seemed to offer a slice of hope. No, I was not concerned about the cost because I believed in the type of society that Jeremy Corbyn’s policies were going to create. Any cost was worth it in my eyes.

Rebecca Long-Bailey appears to be the only candidate who is closely aligning herself to maintaining these policies in stating she is, “totally committed to the policies.” Thus, at current, she is the most likely candidate to have my vote. However, I do have reservations about her.

Already deemed as the, “continuity candidate” most closely aligned with Corbyn politics, this label could already steer away more centrist Labour voters or simply those who could not vote Labour due to Corbyn’s leadership. I truly believe in Long-Bailey’s type of politics but whether she could be elected as Prime Minister is another question.

Yes, I would love to vote with my heart but I would also like to see Labour winning some future elections, having been stuck with a Tory austerity government most of my life.

Keir Starmer MP for Holborn and St Pancras (2)

Already in the lead by a mile, Keir Starmer allegedly is the most popular candidate, having secured the most backing from MPs and by the largest trade union in the United Kingdom, Unison.

Starmer’s legal background on the one hand, gives him credibility as a leader and challenger to Boris Johnson. He’d probably be great in the House of Commons and in debate. However, I fail to be convinced by his politics. He was the architect of Labour’s Brexit position in the 2019 election, which arguably, lost them the General Election. Additionally, he is another member of the London elite, which will perhaps do him no favors in winning back Northern, working-class voters.

Additionally, Starmer appears to be in favour of renewing Trident, the UK’s nuclear deterrent, which doesn’t sit well with me. However – I can see him being Prime Minister regardless.

Emily Thornberry MP for Islington South and Finsbury (3)

I used to be more of a fan of Emily Thornberry, before she revleaed on Marr last week that she was rather a fan of the Royal family. Again, another member of the London metropolitan elite, it is difficult to see her winning the trust of Northern voters.

Upon looking at her voting record, Thornberry appears to have very similar views to Jeremy Corbyn. Additionally, she is the most experienced politician in the race and has spent more time in parliament than Starmer. Of all the women candidates, she strikes me as the most convincing. I am hoping that just her presence on the ballot paper will be enough to reduce votes for Jess Philips.

Lisa Nandy MP for Wigan (4)

Unfortuantely, before the leadership contest I had never even heard of Lisa Nandy. And part of having her so low down in the list is influenced by this. She has been out of the limelight since the contest began with most media coverage focusing on Starmer, Long-Bailey and Jes Philips.

The MP for Wiggan presents a complex view on Brexit. Once a proud remainer she came out criticisng the Remain position of the Labour party for not doing enough, but then tried to appeal to the more pro-Brexit opinions of her constituents. Although Brexit will soon be irrelevant (we hope) it does worry me that she appears to be so flippant.

Continuously criticizing Labour’s policies and former leader is also not the right approach for me and doesn’t win my vote.

Jess Philips MP for Birmingham Yardley (5)

If Jess Philips ever becomes leader of the Labour Party, I will seriously think about leaving it.

Being an out spoken critique of your own party is never a good look. Philips has been a staunch critique of Corbyn ever since he was elected which has nonetheless, contributed to the divisions within the party. She is never capable of not putting herself first, which I think is a very worrying type of leadership.

And it hasn’t just been Corbyn at the disposal of her ridicule, Diane Abbott has also been the but of her jokes on too many occassions. Philips even told Abbott to, “fuck off” during a meeting in 2015.

Let’s not forget the fact she is an outspoken, known feminist, but pursues a type of feminism which is only for white, middle-class women. Jess also seemed an eager fan of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who she descrimed as, “a real gent.” It speaks for itself. I could go on, but I won’t. I will leave below a brilliant quote from an article written by Leah Cowan of gal-dem, it tells you all you need to know.

“We need a Labour leader who isn’t going to use misappropriate the phrase “working class” as a dog whistle for appealing to white racist voters, at any cost. We need a leader who will bring our communities together, not entrench racist stereotypes that play directly into the rhetoric of the far-right. We need a leader who recognises that foreign policy, climate change, and the trident nuclear warheads are feminist issues, as women of colour in the global south are most directly impacted by Britain’s wars and exploits globally. Progress has been made on the left which must not be undone by a new leader whose white feminism leaves women of colour and marginalised communities out of a  vision for the way forward. We must continue to believe and act on the premise that a different politics is possible.”

Leah Cowan

Those are my thoughts on the leadership at present – I am sure they will change over the coming weeks somewhat. Remember – if you want to have a vote, you have to sign up by 20th January.

Book Review – Minimal: how to simplify your life and live sustainably

Image: Amazon

Author: Madeleine Olivia

Rating: 5/5 stars

Publisher: Ebury Press, Penguin Books

I’m kicking off 2020 with my first review being non-fiction… Shock horror! But seriously, I loved this book and I think it can be applicable to anyone and everyone.

I started following Madeleine Olivia online many years ago, when she just had a few thousand followers. I began watching her on YouTube as I loved her food content and general outlook on life, which shines through so much in this book. An initial disclaimer – I am not a vegan but am interested in making sustainable changes where I can.

Synopsis

We are facing an urgent climate crisis and we must all take action now. However, it can be difficult to know where to start when bombarded with overwhelming facts and statistics every day. We all want to make a difference, but what can we do?

Minimal makes simple and sustainable living attainable for everyone, using practical tips for all areas of everyday life to reduce your impact on the earth. Leading environmentalist Madeleine Olivia shares her insights on how to care for yourself in a more eco-friendly way, as well as how to introduce a mindful approach to your habits. This includes how to declutter your life, reduce your waste and consumption, recipes for eating seasonally and making your own natural beauty and cleaning products.

Learn how to minimise the areas that aren’t giving you anything back and discover a happier and more fulfilled life, while looking after the Earth we share.”

Review:

First of all, although I read this book on Kindle, I have seen it in print and everything about its design is beautiful and as perfectly minimalist as I had imagined. There are cute illustrations for each section which really add a nice touch. There is also space (if you have a physical copy) to add in your own thoughts and potential changes to your lifestyle, where appropriate.

What I loved about this book was that is was not just a straight up vegan bashing bible, it is so far from it. It is a book which covers all aspects of everyday life; from home and de-cluttering, to mental health and the importance of digital detoxing. Madeleine importantly champions that making any changes, little or small, can make a difference. The value is in everybody‘s effort and collectively, and this can make a big difference. Additionally, she crucially points out that making an error does not make you a bad person,

“And small misgivings such as using a plastic cup or buying fast fashion aren’t going to ruin the world alone…”

Madeleine Olivia

Madeleine’s book covers all physical and mental aspects of life and how to simplify and make them more sustainable (if you can). Chapters include topics such as opting to travel more mindfully and slowly, by using trains instead of planes, to the importance of establishing an effective bedtime routine that can benefit our mental health, it is a book that everyone should read. I went into the book worrying that it wouldn’t apply to me, but in every section there were things I learnt and have taken away.

I have already started a Depop page for selling my old clothes, rather than throwing them away. I have plans to buy some reusable vegetable bags, and I have vowed to myself that the next time I need to buy something I will look secondhand rather than jumping to find it brand new.

Madeleine’s book was a joy to read from start to finish. Every section was informative, yet personal and insightful, and contained a reminder that even the small things do make a difference. It provides a refreshing outlook on being more mindful, which I have found to be lacking in conversations about sustainability and veganism. Often, I have found it hard to engage in the debate when it is presented as so polarizing. But in this book, Madeleine has crafted a resource which is open to all and something anyone and everyone can turn to if they want to simply be more informed, or to start making changes.

I most of all loved the sections about travelling mindfully and not being in a rush to see anything and everything, but taking the time to take everything in,

“But on this journey we have to remember to stop and just stay still. Take a moment to just soak it all in.”

Madeleine Olivia

As a nervous flyer I am glad that finding other means of travel is now the new sustainable option! I loved the section on fast fashion; it really opened up my mind to the sheer amount of waste involved and what a difference it can make if we all chose to look in second hand shops first. Above all, I loved the focus on mental health, and how minimalism (digitally and physically) can be used as a tool to champion positive mental health and well-being.

Throughout my life, I have been a sucker for consumerism and buying new things. I find myself always on the look out for a new top, or another pair of socks I don’t need. I forget what I have in the cravings for something new and shiny. However, this has meant I have hoarded a lot of stuff over the years and now feel (slightly) overwhelmed by the process of becoming more minimal. However, Minimal, has provided me with the inspiration and guidance to embark on this journey.

Wonderful! This is a book I will be returning to again and again.