Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lolita [1955]

Like Arthur Conan Doyle will be remembered, first and foremost, as the author of Shorlock Holmes stories, Saradindu Bandopadhyay as those of Byomkesh Bakshi tales, and Albert Camus as that of The Outsider, despite their other literary works, Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov will forever be associated with Lolita – for better or for worse. This was a novel that was both controversial and groundbreaking for espousing a theme that most people would find deplorable; the fact that it still managed to be reckoned as a masterpiece in the English literature and turned the character of ‘Lolita’ into a pop-culture icon, speaks volumes about it as well as its author. Right from its faux prologue and the iconic first paragraph where the titular character is introduced by the cheekily named narrator, viz. Humbert Humbert, the novel is filled with mordant wit, dry humour, trenchant ironies, and fascinating wordplays, coupled with a parallel layer of subtle poignancy, lyricism and beauty. The novel was slightly slow to start with, but by the time the narrator, an erudite French gentleman who has a thing for “nymphets”, moves to the US and meets the precocious 12-year old Lolita, not only does an entire orchestra start playing in his mind, the book too jumped to rarefied levels of style, quality and grandiosity. Humbert’s forbidden relationship with the young girl alternated between criminally manic obsession and love of the most heartbreaking kind. Interestingly, its satirical observations on human behavior and the dangerous love story apart, it also managed to be an incredible ode to life on the road and traveling through America. Despite the fluid language and darkly comic tone, this isn’t the easiest read… but a gratifying one nonetheless – from intellectual as well as visceral standpoints.

Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Genre: Drama/Social Satire/Black Comedy/Road Novel/Romantic Drama/Stream of Consciousness
Language: English
Country: France/UK

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Big Kill [1951]

Replace Phillip Marlowe’s bitterness with downright misanthropy, his wry cynicisms with sarcasm, add a strongly palpable streak of sadomasochism to his toughness, and transplant the setting from Los Angeles to New York, and you’ve got fellow P.I. Mike Hammer. If One Lonely Night, the first pulp novella by Mickey Spillane I’d read was violent, The Big Kill took that to a whole different level altogether. Raw, gritty and abounding in the gumshoe’s thirst for street justice, the hardboiled writing style, the nihilistic tone and severe apathy towards the so-called human values, made this action-packed story a peach of a read. The novel opens with Hammer enjoying a lonely drink at a shabby bar when he witnesses a man kissing his son goodbye and walking out to the street to be mowed down by a hail of bullets. Hammer cannot tolerate a number of things and making a baby orphan most certainly features right there at the top, and that, couple with his intense dislike for gangsters and hoodlums makes him vow revenge at those responsible. And thus, ignoring the suggestions of Pat Chambers, Captain of Homicide at NYPD and his sole friend in the Big Apple, he goes about his mission with a searing determination – even at the risk of putting his life in utmost dangerous. On the way he falls for an enigmatic but incredible looking dame, while a foxy female who works for the District Attorney, who absolutely hates Hammer’s guts, is smitten by him. Unlike the long-winding and operatic climax of the other Hammer novella I’ve read, the tension here managed to be at a very high level from start to finish. Though Spillane was no Chandler in terms of sheer quality and style, this hyper-violent American roman noir did manage to be a dark and gripping ride.

Author: Mickey Spillane
Genre: Crime Thriller/Detective Novel/Mystery/Roman Noir/Hardboiled Literature
Language: English
Country: US