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on July 13, 2000
Nabakov is one of my literary icons. I view him as one of the masters of 20th century prose. That's why I wish I hadn't read this book. It is indeed a precursor to Lotlita, told from the point of view of a character much like Humbert Humbert, who has a distinct penchant for young, waifish girls. However, whereas Lolita is full of great wit, disarming wordplay and inventiveness, this novella borders on the prosaically pornographic. Most of the narrative is taken up with the lurid musings and imaginative follies of the old rake. As is the case in Lolita, he takes up with the mother to get closer to the daughter. And in this story too, the mother is conveniently removed from the picture, leaving our hero to bask in solitude with his young ward. Again, as in his great novel, Nabakov's narrator comes to a bad end. His nymphette wakes up while he is forcing himself on her and starts screaming bloody murder. The neighbors call the police and he's carted off to jail. Anyone who is familiar with Lolita is aware of the obscenity charges filed against it and of the difficulties surounding its initial US publication. However, Lolita, Like Joyce's Ulysses, is not obscene in any sense. It towers above its subject matter because it is great satirical literature, full of humor and grand spirit. This little book, on the other hand, becomes bogged down in its subject matter and comes very close to being pornographic. There is good reason it wasn't published until recently. It throws a new and perhaps unwarrentedly lurid light on its author's masterpiece. Nabakov's son issues a king of apologia for the work in a postscript. I read this book because I've tried to read all of Nabakov's works, both fiction and non-fiction. I would have to place this one at the bottom of the list. My reverence for a great author was diminished slightly by my exposure to this text. I'm surprised his estate did decide to publish it.
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In a sense, "The Enchanter" was not meant to be published. Author Vladimir Nabokov unearthed the extremely brief novel in his papers, 20 years after he dashed it off (and thought it was gone forever). It's "Lolita" before there was "Lolita"... but not quite as interesting.
The main character is a middle-aged, respectable, well-off man, living alone and lonely. He also has a distinct "liking" for teenage girls who are just hitting adolescence, but doesn't dare to try anything. One in particular catches his notice, a coltish girl on roller skates who talks to him at times and gains his affection and lust.
He proposes to the girl's widowed mother, who is terminally ill and pretty crabby; he has no interest in his "monstrous bride" but it's the only way he can get to the girl. The wife's condition gets worse over the following months, and she dies. And the man choreographs his own downfall as he plots to seduce his new stepdaughter...
The mind of a pedophile is a disgusting thing, and Nabokov makes no excuses for it. "The Enchanter" is a pretty straightforward story in comparison, without a lot of twists or surprises. It's far from a bad book, but it's not a terribly good one either. It's fairly ordinary, especially when compared to modern classic "Lolita."
The high point of "The Enchanter" is the rambling thoughts of the lead character as the book opens. Then it dips down and proceeds more or less steadily. Nabokov's lush language and complex symbolism aren't really very present here. His writing is blander and more straightforward, with a lack of polish.
The characters are given no names -- they're just the man, the girl, the wife. And the only characters we really get insight into are the lead character and the teenage girl. He's a lech, a creepy pedophile, with nothing good about him. Though he's the center of the novel it's impossible to feel any understanding for him, only a sort of disgusted pity. And Nabokov evoked that with a flair. And the girl is a sort of vibrant athlete that can be seen at any school.
"The Enchanter" is a sort of pale shadow of "Lolita," a straightforward story about a pedophile and how his obsessions bring him down. Worth checking out, but far from the best.
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on April 27, 2003
Nabokov's Lolita spawns from this short book, and it is fascinating to see the thought process behind the masterpiece. The book is translated to English from Russian, so some of the story may be lost. The Enchanter is a bit disappointing after finishing Lolita. Lolita is full of word play, imagery, allusion, and poetic prose, so finding the Enchanter to be merely a story with not much artistry in the language is almost sad! The storyline consists of little complexity, and the work is void of the characterization that draws the reader into Lolita. The narrator has none of the charisma that the brilliant Humbert Humbert possesses, and comes across simply as a villain. Nabokov's concept of the nymphet that left the term "Lolita" forever in the English vocabulary does not appear either. The young girl's character isn't developed at all; instead the reader gets nothing more than physical descriptions. Nabokov didn't intend the Enchanter for publication at all, it is merely a sketch of an idea he later developed for everyone's eyes. This book is worth reading, but without any expectations that Lolita may cause the reader to have. Perhaps it is better to read the Enchanter before reading Lolita.
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on August 8, 2000
No one can write about "The Enchanter" without mentioning the fact that it is the precursor to "Lolita". Keeping in mind that this was a sketch for "Lolita", it isn't that bad. Who can say that they've written something brilliant without thought on the first try? Also, keep in mind that it was translated from Russian into English (not by Nabokov), so Nabokov's usual beauty in writing may be badly put into English. If you are interested in reading "The Enchanter", be it for the fact that you want to see where it meets with "Lolita".
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on November 23, 1997
In many respects it is very similar to Nabokov's most famous novel 'Lolita', yet, in many respects it lacks all the wit and charm and appeal that makes Lolita so likeable. Its a bit more simple with the main character on the same path: to watch little girl's play. The voyeurism is a bit more offensive because of the faceless characters that are drawn, not mention the more distant point of view the reader is to take. Because it is a short story, The Enchanter is not out of the way, and worth a read for Nabokov lovers, but not for lovers of reading.
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