Why do some people like to read Lolita

literature : Chess with violets

To put it straight away: Michael Maar's cleverly interpreted book is for people who like to read Vladimir Nabokov's novels and stories often and often. With good reason, the preface already speaks of the "rewards of rereading" which made the enigmatic work of the Russian-American magician unique. Without his knowledge one has little of Michael Maar's finesse of interpretation. In culinary terms: no aperitif is served, but a digestif.

Michael Maar, born in 1960, made his debut as a philologist in 1996 with Nachrichten vom “Zauberberg”, which was followed by other Thomas Mann essays. He has also published an analysis of the Harry Potter novels, the appeal of which was to examine J. K. Rowling's books for compositional techniques and motif structures as if they were by Vladimir Nabokov. And finally, three years ago, Maar, the searcher for traces, gave a literary exhumation of a German publicist named Heinz von Lichberg who published a Lolita story in 1916, which was also called "Lolita" and which has certain similarities with the novel that Nabokov made his belated world fame owed.

Michael Maar now maintains the Nabokov community with “Solus Rex”, named after an unfinished novel written in Russian by Nabokov in Paris in the winter of 1939/40. However, this text only forms the backdrop for the philological stage on which Maar's figures Nabokov step on, while whole hordes of footnotes rattle the bells in the stage pit. The characters dancing across the boards include Pnin, Humbert Humbert, Lolita and their numerous predecessors in the “beautiful and evil world of Vladimir Nabokov”, as the subtitle says.

His highlight is the chapter on “Pnin's Journey into Light”, his cabinet piece is the chapter “Wizard and Dwarf”. In it we read how Valdimir Nabokov rewrote Thomas Mann's story “Little Herr Friedemann” in his story “Potato Elf” - parodic, of course, because “Nabokov's contempt for Thomas Mann was deep”.

However, the most exciting question that this clever, learned, skillfully composed and also very amusing book provokes goes beyond its subject matter. It is a question of what readers need to know in order to understand; and the question of the value and rank of literature, which, because of its sometimes crossword-puzzling coding, is dependent not least on the auxiliary work of editors and commentators.

This is not the place to discuss whether Vladimir Nabokov might not be overrated in Germany after all. But even an admirer like Maar admits the graceful and "violet-like" aspect of the master's prose, and not every reader, to whom the chess moves and music box melodies of his compositions seem to be merely artful in the long run, must therefore be one of these heads that sound hollow when a book collides with them.

There are authors who are forgotten and others who are frozen in perpetual admiration. Some are thawed again and fashion. Still others fall between praise and disinterest. Only one person stands in rows and rows with himself doubled, hiding little silvery butterflies on the book covers under the dust jackets and flirtatiously showing the ribbon bookmarks as if each were a Humbertian "garter belt for my love affair". Michael Maar is right: “You can't get out of the subjunctive with this author.” The interpretation goes on.

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