Friday, June 22, 2012

Things That Are Good #1

And now we come to a new feature of our program, Things That Are Good.

In this the first installment, I recommend the blog of author Rupert Smith, link here.

Smith is a great author, writing one of my favourites last year, Man's World, and he also writes erotica under the name James Lear.  So multi-dimensional!

Smith has started a fantastic idea project, counting down his 100 favourite books, with a new post every couple days, and is up to number 64.

Of his #65 choice, Lolita, he says:

65. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

‘Wanted, wanted: Dolores Haze./ Hair: brown. Lips: scarlet./ Age: five thousand three hundred days./ Profession: none, or “starlet”.’ That sinister little jingle has been going round in my head ever since I first read Lolita in the early 80s. Back then I thought it was exciting and taboo-smashingly controversial – which it is – but over the years I’ve found it harder to go along with Humbert Humbert’s horribly seductive persuasions. And that, of course, is exactly what Nabokov was up to, pinpointing what was to become one of the biggest anxieties of our times, paedophilia. Lolita is without doubt one of the greatest masterpieces of C20th literature, and the only reason it’s not higher in this list is because I find it really gruelling to read these days, even though it does all the things I want novels to do. It’s funny, it’s got engaging, pacy narrative and an unmistakeable voice, that of HH himself – likeable, plausible, pitiful. Just typing about him makes me feel uneasy. I love all the Nabokov I’ve subsequently read, particularly the magnficient Despair, but Lolita towers over the lot of them. Footnote: I never knew until now that there had been an ‘acclaimed but failed’ musical Lolita, My Love by no less a team than Alan Jay Lerner and John Barry. What were they thinking?

Of his #64 choice, London Belongs to Me, he says:

64. London Belongs to Me, Norman Collins (1945)

OK, I’m cheating here, because I’ve just finished reading this and it’s been washed into the Top 100 on a tidal wave of enthusiasm. London Belongs to Me is exactly the sort of novel that I dream about discovering, and so rarely do. It’s a big busy book about the residents of a south London boarding house during the Second World War, and it’s written in an elegant, conversational tone that disguises the superb craftsmanship of the narrative. Collins (a hugely successful author who went on to become one of the most important post-War TV executives) handles his large, diverse cast with a juggler’s skill, and manages to juxtapose sentiment, comedy and hard-boiled action without ever striking a false note. There’s a camp old retired actress living upstairs, a phony Spiritualist medium in the basement and all human life in between. They eat disgusting food, smoke a lot of fags and trundle around streets that we are still familiar with. The fact that it’s set in Kennington, just down the road from my house, makes it a special joy. Oddly, the introduction to the Penguin reissue goes to great lengths to tell us that London Belongs to Me is a second-rate novel, ‘just a soap opera’ etc, which is absolute bollocks. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

No comments: