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struggle elegantly. Even more ingenious is how Darwin's principle of natural selection plays out in Covington 's relationship with his friends, his family and his future. (RB) Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov read by Jeremy Irons Random House (Audio), 1997, 8 cassettes, 12 hours, unabridged, $39.95 While the subject of Lolita—the sexual exploitation of a child— would seem to limit the tone of the story to unpleasant gritty realism, Nabokov breaks out of those limits by making the book to some extent a palpably "false" and inflated gothic confection à la Edgar Allan Poe. Humbert Humbert, the seducer, makes himself out to be a romantic exile, lost in the arabesques of his attraction to little girls. His machinations against Lolita's mother are the stuff of comedy—at least until Mrs. Haze discovers his diary, runs out of the house in horror, and is struck down by a car. The first seduction scene is written with hallucinogenic intensity, and it, along with many others, is partly comic in tone as Humbert's manic efforts to control Lolita and everything concerning her keep going awry. A comic distance is maintained throughout the book, in fact, as Humbert frequently stands aside and addresses his "learned readers" or "frigid gentlewomen of the jury." He is ultimately the butt of his own pomposity , and yet one of the things that makes this book so marvelous is that Nabokov interweaves moments of frightening realism and genuine emotion throughout the whole—genuine tenderness for Lolita, genuine empathy for her plight. He keeps sneaking these moments into the book: Lolita's pitiful attempts to be normal and have normal friends; her "party with boys," which turns out to be a disaster , with HH lurking in the wings; her tennis, which she plays with perfect form but never to win; her arguments , which he ultimately dominates because, after all, he has the power. The book moves through a variety of tonal landscapes—from sentimentality in the early sections, where Humbert describes a childhood affair with his own Annabel Lee, through slapstick and comedy, into what becomes a dominant tone of seriousness toward the book's conclusion , after he has lost Lolita. Jeremy Irons is a superb reader for this audio version, not only because he played the role of Humbert Humbert in the recent movie but because he clearly loves the book itself. After listening to all twelve hours of this recording, I wondered if it was not just as hard to read this flawlessly as to act in the movie. A number of listeners have called this the recording of the year, and I can understand why. Bravo for Mr. Irons. (SM) Handwriting by Michael Ondaatje Knopf, 1999, 78 pp., $22 After the smashing success of his novel The English Patient, Ondaatje— who has ten other volumes of poetry to his credit—finds himself in more 194 · The Missouri Review ...


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