I’m pretty sure that most (or, some) people who like reading books go through a phase of reading solely about unrequited love affairs, painful memories and champagne drinking. It usually starts with The Great Gatsby. It’s a gateway book. It often leads to Nabokov. That’s what happened to me anyway, and although I’ve drifted away recently (I got lost somewhere around The Luzhen Defence because, well, it’s a book about chess) I still think Nabokov could write better than almost anyone. Which is a little galling for every native English-speaking writer, because he was Russian.
Anyway – he wrote saucy books full of lust and longing, and for a straight man he had an excellent eye for lady fashion. The character of Lucette in Ada or Ardor gets all the best outfits, from her ‘emerald-studded cigarette case’ and ‘very short evening gown in lustrous cantharid green’ to her bright copper hair and series of black silk handbags that ‘click’ open. What a dame. (Cantharid is a kind of beetle. I had to look that up.) She goes to dinner one night in a dress of bronze ostrich feathers, with ‘jewels’ on her head.
Check out this bit of serious chic:
‘He headed for the bar and made out, through the optical mist, the girl whose silhouette he recalled having seen now and then, passing alone, drinking alone, always alone […] She wore a high-necked, long-sleeved romantic black dress with an ample skirt, fitted bodice and ruffy collar, from the black soft corolla of which her long neck gracefully rose. We know, we love that high cheekbone and the forward upsweep of black lashes and the painted feline eye’. (p.361, Penguin 2000)
There must be so many other literary hotties like Lucette that I don’t know about. Please let me know of any. I need their unattainable glamour in my life.