After much legal wrangling with Nabokov's estate, Pia Pera's Lo's Diary
has found its way to America. Imagining the inner life of Nabokov's Lolita, Pera shows a good degree of irreverent audacity, something that is often missing in feminist "re-imagining" of the patriarchal past--historical or literary. While American Women's Studies classes teach us that Lolita is a victim, caught in a terrible net of adult desire, in this Italian writer's version, Lolita is a petty, self-centered girl who is driven by lust, boredom, the desire to be looked at constantly. She's also a skilled sadist, torturing animals, men, her mother. When Lo leaves for camp, she runs upstairs to hug poor, pathetic Humbert: "he holds me away to see me better, with a tragic-emotional look (he's always getting that look, because of the gutless poetry he studies), and I bring my lips close to his. End of film." While the publishers claim Pera is seeing Lolita through the lens of a "new feminist consciousness," it reads more like that of fashion magazines, soap operas, bitchy girl talk.
In order to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit, Pero's American publisher agreed that Nabokov's son, Dmitri, could write a preface. And it is a scathing statement indeed, issued from the heights of literary snobbery. Nabokov writes condescendingly of "Pia Pera (henceforth PP), an Italian journalist and author of some stories that I have not read." He ends with this statement: "Whether [the book] draws well or badly from Lolita I leave for you to judge." In e-mail exchanges with The New York Times, Pera called the preface "a disappointingly dull emulation of his father's mastery of irony and, on occasion, virtuoso contempt."
Lo's Diary is no masterpiece, by any means. Its prose is flatly realistic, pulling Nabokov's wildly poeticized characters down into a sticky, unglamorous world where Humbert can't even figure out how the condom works. This is clearly Pera's mission--to vandalize the literary institution that is Lolita, and in this she has succeeded. Her novel is like cultural graffiti that won't wash off the walls for a while, for at least a month or two. --Emily White
From Publishers Weekly
After much controversy, including Dmitri Nabokov's filing of a lawsuit alleging Vladimir Nabokov's LolitaAfrom Lo's point of viewAis revealed as a compelling novel in its own right. Choosing Lo's journal (which reveals characters' "real" names) as her vehicle, Italian writer Pera embroiders on Nabokov's Lolita (last name now Maze), fleshing out her troubled childhood. Her little brother is electrocuted ("his hair stands up straight, like Peter Porcupine") and her father takes to electrocuting lizards before he dies, too. The onset of puberty and awakening sexuality is at once destabilizing and a source of new power. When Humbert Guibert becomes the Mazes' tenant, Dolores triesAor so she pretends to herself at firstAto catch him to be her mother's (alternately "Plasticmom" and "Shitmom") new husband. A bitter mother/daughter competition ends with Charlotte dead and Lo taken sexual prisoner by her new stepfather. Pera convincingly describes Lo's confused state of mind as the illicit pair travel America for a year, Dolores saving herself from suicidal despair by accepting Humbert's bribes of candy, clothes and money, while reminding herself that someday "every memory will lose its thorns, and Humbert Guibert will be forgotten." The eloquent Nabokovian Humbert is here rather humorously reduced to a mundane oppressor, a dull and pretentious aging man. Also fun in Lo's version are her filled-in details of encounters with the pair's stalker, Nabokov's sinister Clare Quilty, here called Gerry Sue Filthy ("Filthy Sue"), who eventually offers Lo dubious refuge. Readers expecting echoes of Nabokov's subtle and elegant prose will be disappointed by the journal's authentic adolescent tone, but this Lolita, in her own words, manages to express quite wonderfully the complexities of her experience. The finished edition, which PW did not see, will contain a publisher's acknowledgment by Barney Rosset, a preface by Dmitri Nabokov and an afterword by Pera. 40,000 first printing; U.S. and Canadian author tour. (Nov.) FYI: Dmitri Nabokov will receive half the royalties from the English edition (which he will donate to PEN), and Pera will share her half with her Italian publisher, Marsilio. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.