Amity Gaige [Off the Record]

I can’t believe how long it’s been.

Perfectly honest, I’ve been quite burnt out on quite a few things as of late and this keyboard not being entirely compliant to my world view isn’t very helpful either. Regardless, I felt like I owed it to at least myself to write something up, in its entirety, instead of starting and scarping every single first page like I’ve done for the past half a month or so. I get it, writer’s block, and I’ve been through this before. It doesn’t get better, still, but whatever.

I’m here to talk about another reading I recently attended, on the subject of Amity Gaige – the 2014 Folio Prize Shortlist – and her novel Schroder. Now, I’ve never been someone of particular care for authority. A few prizes here or there don’t impress me, but actual good work will. I, per my tradition, attended the reading blind. There was no research done on either the author or the book, seeing as how I desired to not have my first impression formed for me before I actually get the chance to meet the writer in person.

Amity, excuse the use of first person here, handled the reading well. To draw a contrast of this to my previous in-person reading, there was no self-introduction this time (perhaps fitting as this one wasn’t an autobiography), no round-about chatting, and I didn’t walk out until the end. She was straight into the reading of the novel – Schroder. There isn’t much else to say at first, except that I enjoyed it. There was a small excerpt, helpful, but whatever. The novel was about a convict in jail, writing letters to his wife (ex-wife) about their daughter. That’s the excerpt.

I was presented with the first few chapters of the novel. It was mildly interesting, familiar modern-American technique, authentic-feel characters etc. As I was pulled through the whole thing, I felt something nagging on the back of my mind. There was something awfully familiar about this plot. It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time before I realised how much of a close resemblance this was to Vladimir Nabokov’s LolitaLolita, love of my life, fire of my loins, and all that.

Same man in prison, writing to an imaginary jury, about his daughter. Now, the letter format was something unique to Schroder, but frankly speaking it wasn’t something of particular use. Since the letters were never meant to be read, the whole thing felt like a less self-aware version of H.H. Being completely fair here, I’ve yet to finish Schroder, but it reads like a less interesting version of Lolita, which is a shame, as it could not compare. Problem is, what exactly compares with Nabokov’s finest? The answer is nothing yet, perhaps nothing ever.

This isn’t to denounce Schroder or any such effort. It’s an admirable piece on its own, and there are certainly differences being drawn. To borrow the word of Kathryn Schulz’s:

“Humbert Humbert is a Bad Man Who Did Things; Kennedy is a man who did bad things.”

I happen to love the choice of capitalisation there.

It simply was unfortunate that I was so familiar with its predecessor that it prevented me from fully enjoying the ride without drawing up a comparison. Alas, such is art.

You can buy the book in question here

You can buy Lolita here


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