Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0004506, Mon, 18 Oct 1999 19:15:07 -0700

Review of Lo's Diary/TIME (fwd)

OCTOBER 18, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 16

Humming Along With Nabokov
A novel escapes litigation to tell another story


"Lo-lee-tah." She spoke her name like a steam
radiator with

"Last name?"

"Lolita Rooney-Burton-Winn-Fortensky-Guccioni,"
she said,
omitting a few names for time and adding a few
to jazz it

This lovely, lilting parody, Steve Martin's
"Lolita at Fifty,"
suggests one way to approach the menacing legend
Vladimir Nabokov's great novel. In six pages
Martin deftly
sketches a woman who has known and used her
allure for so
long--ever since she was 11 and met Humbert
it has become her career, a real-life variation
on the novel,
her own definition of Loliteracy.

As it approaches 50 (Nabokov finished the novel
in 1953),
Lolita remains a brilliant book, a wonderland of
and longing, with an undiminished capacity to
outrage and provoke litigation. Nabokov had to
fight many
obscenity battles when the book was published.
Now a
derivative novel, Lo's Diary (Foxrock; 292
pages; $22.95), by
the Italian essayist and translator Pia Pera,
has been
issued--after the settling of a lawsuit brought
by Nabokov's
son Dimitri. He insisted that he be allowed to
write a preface
to the book and that 5% of its profits go to the
Pen Club. Deal.

Lo's Diary, translated by Ann Goldstein,
purports to be an
on-the-spot account of the sad tryst of a girl
and her
stepfather--the "real" story behind Humbert's
besotted ravings
in a book titled Lolita. We are told that
Dolores ("Lolita")
Maze (not Haze) met Humbert Guibert (not
Humbert) in the
home of her mother Isabel (not Charlotte); that
Humbert took
a fancy to Lo; that he married the mother to get
to the
daughter; that on the mother's death, Hum and Lo
took to
the open road, fitfully pursued by the girl's
true love,
playwright Gerry Sue Filthy (not Clare Quilty),
for whom she
ultimately abandoned Hum.

Of course, this too is fiction: a tribute to and
ripoff of
Nabokov. Pera gives Lo a younger brother, who
died in a
freak accident (tornado, live wire), and a
lingering devotion
to her dead dad, for whom Humbert is a sexier
surrogate. Lo
records scenes of innocent sapphic frolics,
moviegoing (It's
a Wonderful Life is about "how everything turns
out right
because the father didn't die after all") and
quarrels with her
bossy, desperate mom.

In an age of concern for a child's innocence,
Pera might
have underlined the corruptive nature of a man's
lust for a
girl on the cusp of pubescence. Instead, her Lo
is the
aggressor, the seducer and, eventually, the
dismisser. "I'm
going to get this Humbert for myself," she tells
her diary. She
instructs him in the finer points of sex play.
And when
"Hummie-Dummie" devolves into a nagging "Mama
Humbert," she leaves with Filthy--after giving
the drugged
Hum a goodbye sodomizing with the pen he'd used
for his
own diary.

There are only two reasons for such a book:
gossip and style.
Lo's Diary fails both ways. It would be nice to
read of Lo's
nasty times with Filthy, but per Pera, the pair
never had sex,
and he didn't force her to make stag films, as
Humbert had
said. The real problem, though, is in the
narrative voice. In
Lolita, Humbert, an educated European, could wax
in language as elaborate as any poet's or
pedant's. Lo, 11
when the tale begins, and no scholar, must be
limited in
word power and storytelling skills. Yet the
book's prose style,
while undistinguished, is far too precocious and
knowing for
even the brightest kid. Lo could no more have
written Lo's
Diary than Harry Potter could have written the
Harry Potter

Without question, Lo's Diary should be
published. But it
needn't be read. This slip of a thing never
emerges from the
shadows that tower over it: those of
Humbert--that predatory
wretch condemned to sing so beautifully of his
sin--and his
grand, glowering creator. It will have utility
only if it leads
readers back to the immortal original. Choir,
please turn to
page 9 of The Annotated Lolita. All together
now: "Lolita,
light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my