It’s always an alarm bell to me if I read about a book that sounds interesting, type its name into Amazon for reviews (and number of pages, I confess), and I discover that they don’t stock it. However, I must remind myself that some books are just tragically underrated and misunderstood, and that being stocked by Amazon is not a reliable measure of quality (I am reminded at this point of the fact that Amazon stock Fifty Shades of Grey).
I came across Still She Haunts Me, the story of Lewis Carroll’s suspected paedophilic attraction to Alice Liddell, on whom he based his famous books, while reading about Lewis Carroll, out of interest, and as I was reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita at the time, I thought it would make an interesting comparison.
I confess, I actually prefer Still She Haunts Me. It seems odd that I feel I have to defend the less extreme of the two, but then again I cannot deny Nabokov has a way with words that Roiphe doesn’t compete with. Nevertheless, Roiphe’s work resonated far better with me. The character of Lolita feels unrealistic to me, and Humbert would never shut up about how handsome he was. Charles Dodgson (Lewis Caroll’s birth name) on the other hand, is an infinitely tragic character, whose far less extreme, but still morally questionable, behaviour is a relatively small blot on a likable record. In Alice, Dodgson finds a muse, a creative inspiration, one that turns every difficulty he has, his stutter, his communicative trouble, his social problems, into an advantage in his writing. She seems to connect with him such that, from where I’m sitting, everything he does is understandable. Nabokov’s book gives the impression that all paedophiles are predators, who require only the guts to do it once to overcome morality entirely and follow a lifetime of evil, who value looks alone, to the extent of never listening to their victims and forming almost entirely fabricated impressions of their personalities. Meanwhile the victim seems unrealistically hypersexual on her own account, and unaffected by her ordeal. Roiphe manages to capture a far more believable take on events in her narrative.