NABOKV-L post 0001265, Thu, 5 Sep 1996 17:19:36 -0700

A.M. Homes: Schock Schlock & VN (fwd)
EDITOR'S COMMENT: I have been reading and ruminating on recent novels that
have been called "Nabokovian" by critics. One such was John Lanchester's
THE DEBT TO PLEASURE that I wrote about a few weeks ago. I now present
some remarks on A.N. Homes' THE END OF ALICE. DBJ

Some weeks ago Amy Homes' _The End of Alice_ was widely reviewed
and compared (negatively) with LOLITA. Although LOLITA is
nowhere explicitly referred to in ALICE, Homes (in an interview in _Das
Spiegel_ [#23, June 3, 1996]) says that the idea for the novel was born in
a cafe when she overheard two women arguing whether Humbert actually had
slept with Lolita. It is impossible to doubt, she says, that the two have
"gevogelt." She decided that Nabokov's novel about the obsession of an
older man for a 12-year-old girl ought to have a continuation. In fact,
there are only very faint points of contact in character and plot.
The narrator has been encarcerated 23 years for the sex slaying of
12-year-old girl named Alice. His story unfolds in the course of his
current correspondence with a 19 year-old student, also named Alice, who
is corrupting a 12 year old boy. The narrator is also involved in a
homosexual relationship with a fellow inmate. The kicker is that Alice
number "One" is a world-class suicidal maschochist who seduced the
narrator into killing her. (Martin Amis does this a lot better.) At
novel's end, the narrator is on the verge of release and looking forward
to meeting Alice "Two." Both Alices are sexual psychopaths who are no less
enthusiastic in their conquests than the narrator. To say the novel is
pornographic is gross understatement. To say it has redeeming literary (or
social) virtues crushes credulity. The only hint of literary
sophistication is that the narratorial structure is rather complex (or
perhaps just messy). At some points who is being representing as
"speaking" is obscure, as is the line between the characters' reality and
fantasies. In the author's defense, I must admit that I found the whole
thing so artless and ugly that I did not read as attentively as I might
have. There is some chance that it hangs together better than I think.
The writing is, on the whole, mediocre.
Ms. Homes' novel is published by the once venerable house of Scribner
which perhaps accounts for the major review coverage. Most of the reviews
I ran across do not mention the existence of the author's simultaneously
and separately published _Appendix A: An Elaboration of the Novel _THE END
OF ALICE_, published not by Scribners but by Artspace Books, San
Francisco: 72pp ($15). This item contains an autobiographical essay by the
fictional narrator of _THE END OF ALICE_, several garish pictorial
(self-?) representations, photos of the setting and people involved the
crime, pseudo-documents, e.g., an autopsy report, and a series of pictures
of "clues," trinkets, the murder weapon, etc. There is also an short essay
by an academic on prision and sex offenders. Ms. Homes, a Sarah Lawrence
graduate, is the author of three previous books focusing on a recent issue
of THE NEW YORK calls "bad sex." A former Random House employee, she is
well connected in the New York publishing world and has found her own
ecological niche.

What I find most provoking about _The End of ALICE_ is that Amy
Homes is very deliberately exploiting Nabokov and his reputation.
If Nabokov's LOLITA is (in part) an artistic parody of
pornography, Ms. Homes provides a travesty of LOLITA.

D. Barton Johnson

D. Barton Johnson
Department of Germanic, Slavic and Semitic Studies
Phelps Hall
University of California at Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106
Phone and Fax: (805) 687-1825
Home Phone: (805) 682-4618