In a sense, "The Enchanter" was not meant to be published. Author Vladimir Nabokov unearthed the extremely brief novel in his papers, 20 years after he dashed it off (and thought it was gone forever). It's "Lolita" before there was "Lolita"... but not quite as interesting.
The main character is a middle-aged, respectable, well-off man, living alone and lonely. He also has a distinct "liking" for teenage girls who are just hitting adolescence, but doesn't dare to try anything. One in particular catches his notice, a coltish girl on roller skates who talks to him at times and gains his affection and lust.
He proposes to the girl's widowed mother, who is terminally ill and pretty crabby; he has no interest in his "monstrous bride" but it's the only way he can get to the girl. The wife's condition gets worse over the following months, and she dies. And the man choreographs his own downfall as he plots to seduce his new stepdaughter...
The mind of a pedophile is a disgusting thing, and Nabokov makes no excuses for it. "The Enchanter" is a pretty straightforward story in comparison, without a lot of twists or surprises. It's far from a bad book, but it's not a terribly good one either. It's fairly ordinary, especially when compared to modern classic "Lolita."
The high point of "The Enchanter" is the rambling thoughts of the lead character as the book opens. Then it dips down and proceeds more or less steadily. Nabokov's lush language and complex symbolism aren't really very present here. His writing is blander and more straightforward, with a lack of polish.
The characters are given no names -- they're just the man, the girl, the wife. And the only characters we really get insight into are the lead character and the teenage girl. He's a lech, a creepy pedophile, with nothing good about him. Though he's the center of the novel it's impossible to feel any understanding for him, only a sort of disgusted pity. And Nabokov evoked that with a flair. And the girl is a sort of vibrant athlete that can be seen at any school.
"The Enchanter" is a sort of pale shadow of "Lolita," a straightforward story about a pedophile and how his obsessions bring him down. Worth checking out, but far from the best.
on 18 December 1998
The hero of this brief but powerful novel is a monster - cold, obsessive, cruel - but such is Nabokov's skill that your feelings about him are always mixed and you somehow can't help hoping that things will turn out well for him. This makes you feel very uneasy - shouldn't you, as a decent, law-abiding citizen be hoping that this deely unsavoury and unhappy individual should undergo the extreme rigour of the law, and the sooner the better? And yet you reluctantly find yourself wanting his evil schemes to prosper. Suspense and fascination are maintained right to the end. As far as the writing goes - translations are sometimes wooden and get in the way, but this one doesn't read like a translation. It seems to come straight from the heart - a very cold and cheerless heart indeed.