Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Lolita (and its greatest interpreter)

I think this is my fourth time through Nabokov's masterpiece, and dammit, it gets better every time.

That's my way, though, obsessing on beloved books. It may be absurd, given the many great books I haven't read, but that's how I'm wired.

They tried to make a movie of LOLITA in '97, which kind of worked and kind of didn't, and lost tons of money. Before that, Edward Albee tried to write a stage play based on the novel, which didn't work. This may not be the kind of book that lends itself to direct adaptation. Nabokov's own nod-and-a-wink indirect adaptation, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is a lot more fun, in part because it doesn't even pretend to hit all the same notes the novel does. The 1997 film, though, is worth noting here because it features Jeremy Irons in the role of Humbert Humbert. Irons's fine work in that film led to his selection as the reader for the official audiobook, and that audiobook is what I want to talk about.

Jeremy Irons's performance in this unabridged recording of the novel is astonishing, something that will outlive all of us. I just can't stop coming back to it. Irons captures all the black humor, all the subtle transitions, all the fierce intelligence, all the literary references, all the agony, all the ardor, all the self-loathing, all the frustration with destiny. He nails all of it. It's all here. The substantial research and preparatory work he must have done for the film pays off here in a much, much greater achievement. We may not have a two-hour version of this that works, but we certainly have an eleven-hour version that works, and somewhere the author is smiling.

There will always be people who hate LOLITA despite not having read it. Whether you have read the book or not, whether you are willing to admit this is an essential book or not, I can promise you that you will not regret listening to this performance. You'll hear a great actor, at the top of his game, nailing all the roles and all the nuances of one of the greatest novels ever written.

Listen to the opening by clicking the link below.