curious aspects of Vladimir Nabokov's success ...
LOVE as a subject for serious literature has always had its critics.
Illustration: Sturt Krygsman
Recently a reviewer summed up many academics' distaste for Gabriel Garcia Marquez's superb novel Love in the Time of Cholera as "an attempt by the author to broaden his appeal by concentrating on the universal and soft subject of love". Irene Nemirovsky's novel Suite Francaise appalled J.M. Coetzee. In a recent issue of The New York Review of Books he criticises the author for writing about love instead of concentrating on World War II as a time of "conquest and extermination aimed at wiping certain despised people from the face of the earth and enslaving others".
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Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that many women writers are not as interested in male protagonists as they are in the female characters. Male authors, it seems, have a greater fascination with the opposite sex than women do. Just to catalogue even a few of the titles of famous works by men is to be convinced of this. From ancient Greece onwards, male writers have made women the focus of their stories: The Iliad and The Odyssey, Medea, Phaedre, Carmen, Madame Bovary, Lolita, Anna Karenina, St Joan, and Lucinda Brayford, to name a few.
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One of the curious aspects of Vladimir Nabokov's success with his perverted love story (although one-sided, it is a love story) is that it emerged from the US. When you look at the canon of American literature, it's easy to see how seldom love has been a significant theme. From James Fenimore Cooper, with his Leatherstocking tales, Mark Twain and his boy heroes and William Faulkner with his gothic stories of moral corruption, right up to Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace, all have celebrated male energy and obsessions; if women are incorporated into the narrative, they are going to be raped by a corn cob (Faulkner), become sexual conquests in Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer's macho fantasies, or be dismissed as conniving ball breakers by Philip Roth. It took a European emigre such as Nabokov to push the theme of love into the American literary scene.
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Louis Nowra's new novel, Ice (Allen & Unwin), is a love story.
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