Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov Review

"She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita."

       Alone, heartbroken, and at death's door, Monsieur Humbert Humbert opens his confessions with a passionate reflection on his lost love, Lolita. She is the "light of my life, fire of my loins," he says. With just one sentence, the reader already feels poor Humbert's longing. Romantic, right? 

       It turns out that Humbert Humbert is a pedophile. Psychologically scarred by the unconsummated love of his youth, he travels through adulthood repressing a dark desire for pubescent "nymphets". Middle-aged Humbert resolves to leave Europe and its memories of young prostitutes and a failed marriage behind in order to forge a new life in the New England area. There are psychological breakdowns and other minute misadventures, but he eventually finds himself in the 1960s suburban home of Charlotte Haze and there falls instantly in love/lust with her daughter, Dolores (a.k.a. Dolly, a.k.a. Lo, a.k.a. Lolita). 

       Humbert is oppressed by an attraction unlike which he has ever experienced. Furthermore, this illicit and hopeless love is threatened by Charlotte Haze's affection for him and her apparent disdain for Lolita. What is he to do? Luckily, Humbert doesn't have to think too much. A strange twist of events puts Lolita in his custody and sends them on a long journey. However, both Humbert and Lolita realize that they will never be able to outrun the shadows of the past or the shame within themselves. 

       Despite what some might consider too controversial, uncomfortable, or morally questionable a subject, Lolita is quite simply a masterpiece. Many analyses have condemned Vladimir Nabokov for what might appear to be the romanticization of pedophilia, but I would politely disagree. In fact, what is so incredible about Lolita is that despite the overwhelming poetic prose and biased narrative style of Humbert Humbert, the reader can still hear Nabokov's voice through the novel's subtleties. (Yes, there is something subtle to be found in a pedophile's last confessions. One just has to be perceptive enough to realize it.) I believe that hidden voice does offer some words of disapproval concealed within the abundant use of figurative language; words that the reader is charged with revealing for his or herself. If not denunciation (which I'll admit is quite arguable), Nabokov does make very clear the consequences of Humbert and Lolita's relationship and the effect it has on them and the world through which they travel. 

       Regardless of how one interprets the verbose, enigmatic, and sensuous language of Lolita, the beauty of Nabokov's delivery and his way with words is beyond dispute. The novel is worth a read for that alone, if not for anything else. I would not, however, recommend it to anyone unable to dig beneath the surface of the text. Even though the language is gorgeous, what's underneath is what Nabokov really wants the audience to appreciate. 


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Which Book Should I Review Next?

Should I even waste words (if there is such an act) apologizing for another prolonged absence?

I spent almost the entire summer reading. Mostly in my room. There were parks and long car rides, and an amazing trip to Barbados, but reading was the common denominator. I revisited Tess of the D'urbervilles for the third time and tried out The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. Those were the only remnants from the genre of classic literature. The rest were scattered across the board. I read what looked good. I read what was suggested to me. I read anything. I read everything. 

Even now with the adjustment to the college workload and routine, I haven't stopped. It's escalated, really. The overwhelming thirst for knowledge started burning this summer. My college experience thus far has only served to fuel the fire. The only satisfaction I receive (though transitory) is the feeling of having finished a book. Then it ends, and I have to pick up another one. 

Why am I saying this? Just to let you know that I haven't stopped reading. Just writing. Or writing here, at least. But I'm beginning to feel that urge again. The question is, where to begin? 

I've decided to leave it up to you guys. Hopefully you'll give me some feedback. If not, I won't despair. I know I've been gone for too long and my desolate blog views tell me that many of you have stopped looking for me. I'm just flirting with the possibility of revitalization. I just might stick to it this time. 

Ok, so the books: 

  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer 
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Innocent by Ian McEwan 
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X as Told by Alex Haley by Malcolm X, Alex Haley
  • The Alchemist by Paul Coelho
  • Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut 
  • The History of God by Karen Armstrong 
  • 1984 by George Orwell 
  • A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee William
  • The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran 
  • Zealot by Reza Aslan
  • Portrait of a Lady by Henry James 
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus
  • Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence 
  • The Color of Water by James Mcbride 

Which one am I reviewing for you guys? 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Great Gatsby 2013 Review

High school has officially ended, and along with preparing for college, that means that I can now return to the occupation of lit loving again. Yes, it's been far too long, but it feels good to be back and writing in this blank text box once again.

There's so much to share with you. I've read many books during my blogging hiatus and seen a few movies. I've analyzed Wuthering Heights nearly to death in my AP English Literature class and gulped down Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In my very limited spare time, I finally finished Far From the Madding Crowd and watched its adaptations. All in all, this ought to be a very enterprising summer for Lit Lovers & Corset Laces before I go boldly facing the new world of NYU or U of Miami and the college experience. 

Anyway, in the midst of studying for my AP tests, I specifically set a Saturday night aside to go see Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby with my sister and best friend. Thank goodness that pretty much every American has had to read the novel around their sophomore year, so I didn't get the usual elbow in the arm followed by "What the heck is going on?" or "Wait, what? Explain to me what just happened" like I normally do. 

I should probably start by saying that this film is not going to be for everyone. I know that I always include a disclaimer about how opinions differ and the like, but I especially mean it when it comes to this movie. Why? Because it's a Baz Luhrmann film, and he's the type of director whose movies you either love or hate altogether. How many of you liked the 90s edition of Romeo and Juliet with ecstasy pills playing the role of Queen Mab? Yea, well that's Luhrmann. But to be fair, that is one of his riskier movies. Others include Moulin Rouge and Australia. 

It's clear that this version of Gatsby was purposely meant to cater to my generation, which read The Great Gatsby two years ago, loved it, and would appreciate a modern twist. That doesn't make it any less faithful to the source material. To me, it just made the movie better. The 1920s weren't all too different from today in the sense that all the young and rich wanted to do was drink, party, and live without a care for how their actions affected others. Luhrmann put the 20s into a new context. 


I've never much appreciated Leonardo Dicaprio as an actor. In the days of Titanic and Romeo and Juliet, he was just a good-looking kid acting in good-looking movies with good-looking girls, and there was rarely any substance. As his career progressed, he seemed kind of stuck in the middle. His talent is, in my opinion, on the slim side. He never completely transforms into character. He goes overboard trying to be convincing, and all that results is Leo Dicaprio attempting to be whoever in whatever movie. But that only makes him perfect for the role of Gatsby, who (like Dicaprio) has spent his whole life overcompensating and pretending to be someone he's not. Dicaprio's shallowness and unconvincing approach to playing an unconvincing character actually managed to be...well, convincing. The two were a near perfect match. What does the audience actually know about Gatsby? Nothing. Even after everything is explained, no one ever really gets a clear picture of who Gatsby is. All we know is that he is great specimen of ambition and hopefulness. Dicaprio plays the part well. We feel for Gatsby the same way (if not more than) we do in the novel. And yet we're never truly let in. 

It's hard to talk about how Carey Mulligan does well as Daisy Buchanan because Daisy is one of the most frustrating characters in literary history. But I do like the way Mulligan manipulates the role. Throughout the movie I kept wondering, "Why exactly didn't I like Daisy?" Then the climax hits, and Mulligan does exactly what Daisy is supposed to do: she retreats into her world of "carelessness." And Carey is also gorgeous. Coldly gorgeous. Somewhat like Daisy. 

Casting Peter Parker--I mean, Tobey Maguire--was the most iffy decision in the movie. Personally, I've never liked Maguire in anything. He plays the same character in every movie, and Nick Carroway was just too much. But then again, Nick is just kind of the narrator and in-between guy. The audience can't really make up its mind about him. I don't like his voice, I don't like his lost way of acting, and even when Nick is supposed to buckle down and realize his disgust for Daisy and Tom's inauthentic world, it never seems genuine.

I would not have chosen Joel Edgerton to play Tom Buchanon. Perhaps this is a misinterpretation on my part. Personally, I never picture Tom as being hyper-masculine in the "big and burly" sense that I get from Edgerton. To me, Tom is somewhat akin to Stanley from A Streetcar Named Desire: magnetic sex appeal, insane ego, and the joy of getting pleasure from women. Joel Edgerton just doesn't have that kind of comfort in the role. I'd prefer someone more Bradley Cooper-esque, which is funny because Bradley Cooper was actually rumored for the role at one point.

The roles of Jordan and George Wilson are perfectly casted, but casting Isla Fisher as Myrtle is a fail, and I'll leave it at that.


Screenplay: As far as dialogue, the screenplay is surprisingly faithful to the novel. However, the first part of the movie is incredibly fast-paced. There's just too much happening at once and it has the capacity to make you dizzy and slightly annoyed. Some scenes are just awkwardly written, particularly the Nick's day in the apartment with Tom, Myrtle, and Co. After the audience is introduced to Gatsby, the pace slows and the movie settles in and really gets good.

Cinematography:  Nothing incredibly breathtaking. Luhrmann is all about dramatic affect, so there are a lot of melodramatic closeups, extravagant computer works and camera techniques, and other things that I really don't know about. Anyone really acquainted with the technical aspects of cinematography will appreciate this, but I know nothing about any of that.

Soundtrack: I downloaded it. It's filled with modern artists from every genre, most of which I happen to love. Alone, the soundtrack is just a really good CD. What's great about the film is that the songs aren't the least bit overpowering. In most cases, the words are stripped away the instrumentals are all you hear, and they fit perfectly into the story. The music incorporates clear elements of the time period.

Costumes: Perhaps not necessarily true to era, but certainly fun to look at. And you can see the influence of the roaring twenties.

The Great Gatsby was a risk when it was written and a risk whenever it's translated to the big screen. I respect Luhrmann and love the way he manages to artfully imbue the novel's larger-than-life qualities into the movie. However, the helter-skelter pace of the first half and some of the excess (such as releasing it in 3D) detract from the substance of the story in some places. Overall it is a big and breathtaking display, but not an entirely cohesive one. Three out of five stars would do it justice.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Tess of the D'Urbervilles 2008 Review

        I know, I know. It's been a while. Life has been hectic lately to say the least, and it doesn't seem like it's going to slow down anytime soon. I'm growing up now. College is fast approaching, my eighteenth birthday is less than a month away, and my eyes have been set on the future. At the same time, I've also been extremely sentimental about the past. I've taken a lot of time to spend quality time with my mother, watching old period romances that we both love and introducing her to new things. I'm making her read Atonement before I graduate. Yesterday I was home sick from school and I begged her to come and watch a movie with me. 
       "But we're trying something new today," I said adamantly. So I introduced her to Tess of the D'Urbervilles
       "Why Tess of the D'Urbervilles?"You might ask. I have such a love/hate relationship with the novel. I've always hated the hypocrisy and injustice Tess receives from the world and sometimes I have even despised Tess. Yet, the book is such an exceptional piece of literature that I could never hate it fully. Now all of a sudden I love it. Perhaps this has something to do with my newfound love of feminism and literature that handles social injustice. More than anything, I believe it speaks to my maturation as a reader and lit lover. Lately, I've been doing more than just "reading." I have been analyzing, thinking, and really immersing myself in the diction, syntax, plot, figurative language, and voice of every book. Somewhere in the midst of all this, I've realized that I've lost some of the fanaticism I felt towards certain books and gained a newfound and deep appreciation for others. Jane Eyre and North and South will always have cherished places in my heart, but Tess of the D'Urbervilles is beautiful in a way that I haven't witnessed in a novel. 
     Anyway, of course it comes with two adaptations that I have watched multiple times. The 2008 just so happens to be my favorite. So here we go...


Gemma Arterton was near perfection. Her fresh, natural, and yet pensive beauty is perfect for the character. Hardy on multiple occasions describes (and has others do the same) Tess as the physical embodiment of feminine beauty and exalts the perfection of her imperfections. More than anything, the character is depicted as balancing the elements of youth and innocence with the more refined attributes of womanhood. Arterton has all of these qualities. This would be nothing, however, if she didn't also inhabit the role and play it as it should be played. Beyond being a hard character to cast externally, Tess is perhaps one of the most difficult protagonists to capture in terms of spirit, personality, and progression. Whoever does it has to be convincing, or else the film or miniseries would be ruined. On one hand, the audience admires test for being so resilient and dignified despite her experience, yet there is an obvious sense of frailty in her that contradicts her strength and makes it hard to comprehend. Arterton gets it, though. I can't think of anything she does wrong. The fact that she nails the character while also keeping the audience engaged is a major feat that I do not take lightly. Superb performance. 

I hate Alec D'Urberville so saying that someone plays him well is almost an insult. But Hans Matheson does do a very good job with the character. Of course, all the audience wants to do is despise him, but there are clear moments of (almost) tenderness in the midst. My only problem is that everyone knows he is up to no good from the very beginning. I wish he would have put more effort into his ambiguity for Arterton's sake. Tess admits several times that she was dazed by Alec's charm and mysterious appeal when she first met him, and I don't feel as if that translates as well as it should. Otherwise, Matheson is great at playing the man closest to the devil. 

I'll be the first to say that I adore Eddie Redmayne as an actor. As Angel, however, there is something a bit lacking, and I'm not sure whether the fault belongs to him or the screenwriter. My major qualm with Angel in this adaptation is that the audience doesn't see nearly enough of his intellect. Angel is supposed to be a man of modern ideas and revolutionary, "new age" philosophies. This is absolutely essential to the character because of the clear irony it presents in the novel. That irony is not as evident in this miniseries. Most of this is probably due to the fact that this miniseries seems geared towards a younger audience and thus Hardy's philosophies would be hard to work in, but the lack of it detracts from Tess and Angel's relationship. On the other hand, maybe this is just me being critical because I hate Angel's character as well. Oh well. Redmayne is swoon-worthy enough, and he seems to fit perfectly into the time period. Well done. Not spectacular, but good. 


Screenplay: Very well executed. Of course, as I mentioned before, it doesn't do as good of a job capturing Hardy's specific attention to social commentary, philosophy, etc., but there is plenty of that in the first adaptation and more than enough to suffice in the novel itself. Also, can I really be angry? Not everything can make it into an adaptation. The plot is mirrored almost perfectly, the dialogue is translated well. I am impressed. One thing I do love and must comment on (**SPOILER ALERT**) is the extra flavor added to the end. When Tess walks to her death and images of the dance she and Angel might have shared are interspersed with the sorrow of the present, the emotion is intense. It moves me to tears every time. I am so glad the screenwriter added this because it emphasizes the "what if" question that plagues the characters and the audience throughout the novel. It is also beautifully carried out and appeals to romantic saps like me. (**END SPOILER ALERT**). 

Cinematography: Better than that of any other BBC miniseries. Not saying that it is amazing, because it's not. After all, it's just a miniseries. But it pays particular attention to Tess's surroundings in the same way Thomas Hardy does in the novel. 

Soundtrack: Minimalist, but beautiful. I would buy it if I knew where to get it. There are two songs in particular that flow in and out of the miniseries. One is the song the dairymaids sing and the other is a raw violin instrumental that fits perfectly with the story. 

Costumes: Eh. Nothing special. But then again, they're not really supposed to be. I'm no expert on the time period either, so I can't vouch for historical accuracy. I know that the novel is set in the late Victorian period, but because most of the film takes place in low-income country society, I would think that the local attire was more simplistic and less confined to a time period. 

This miniseries is a great adaptation of a great novel. I would definitely recommend it as well as the earlier one. Both are very good. As lit lovers, I'm sure that you guys will watch both. I might review the  other one soon, but I can't be sure. Gemma Arterton carries the 2008 on her back and she does it well. She really takes on the persona of Tess Durbeyfield and that is what makes this adaptation worth watching.