Top positive review
A difficult but perhaps necessary work
on May 29, 2001
I found this a difficult and disturbing novella: I was uncomfortable with it throughout and finished with a sense of relief, not only because the book ended, but also because of the way it ended.
Other reviews have pointed out that Nabokov was treading a narrow path between literature and pornography, and I could see their point. How anyone can find children sexually attractive is utterly beyond me. However, I think that the first presumption in literature should be one of tolerance - it would be a mistake, in my view, to dismiss "The Enchanter" as a work of pornography. It isn't - yet it's very challenging.
Nabokov examines the mind of a paedophile - in particular his inability to differentiate between fantasy and reality until it is too late. I would have been worried if I had not found the subject matter disturbing. What it did do was make me reflect why I found this novella so challenging, and why I found, for example, Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice" (which deals with a dying man's infatuation with a boy) so moving. I'll need to re-read "Death in Venice" to reflect more on this, but I think it's because in "Death in Venice" the attraction to the boy was the means by which von Aschenbach faced his own imminent demise, and realised that he'd denied his true nature throughout his life. There was no, as such, sexual possibility.
Also, I was reminded of a scene in William Corlett's "Now and Then" in which the main (gay) character shares a bedroom with his young and (I think, though memory may be unreliable) attractive nephew: the nephew enjoys undressing before his uncle, but the saving factor is that the uncle is in control of his life and emotions - he realises that this is merely the boy showing off, that it is not meant as a sexual advance.
What Nabokov does is examine the fact that for some disturbed individuals (males?), there is an inability to rationalise and separate fantasy from reality - and where the fastasy involves children, this is particularly dangerous. Children do not view the world through the same eyes as adults - I can remember in particular two incidents at school (one when I was 10, the other 15), when male teachers let's say, doted very obviously over particular girls. To us at that age, they appeared to be rather dirty and ridiculous old men (one was in his fifties, the other in his thirties). To my knowledge, nothing at all happended. I think what is important is that most of us, as we mature absorb such reflections made in our youth and use them as the foundations for controlling our behaviour as adults. Some however, fail to do this, as Nabokov demonstrated.
In a society where voilence against children seems to be growing, reading a work like "The Enchanter" is not easy, yet it is brave fiction, and if it makes one reflect and therefore learn, it has immense value.