You probably know Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, which might lead you to believe you know at least some things about Lolito by Ben Brooks. You’d be wrong, though. Lolito is an unusual work of fiction about a high-schooler named Etgar who pursues an internet–and then real life–romance with a significantly older woman. Brooks himself is quite young: He was born in 1992, and Lolito is his fifth novel. Here, Brooks chats with Bookish about Lolito, Tao Lin, the internet, and trying to take up less space.
Bookish: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is a fairly polarizing novel. What made you decide to evoke Lolita in the title of your own book (beyond the obvious age differences in each)?
Ben Brooks: It was a kind of joke with a Spanish friend, because it would be the masculine form of Lolita. It seemed funny and it fitted and it was a better title than anything else I could find in my head. That’s the full extent of its relationship with Nabokov.
Bookish: Your prose integrates “real life” seamlessly with life on the internet. Why did you feel this was so important to Lolito?
BB: It wasn’t a conscious decision, I don’t think. Really it was unavoidable. Today I saw a man with his plane ticket displayed on his apple watch. I think that kind of clunky insertion of emails into fiction via weird fonts and so on is probably over because our lives have now been fairly “seamlessly integrated” with the internet. To bet on whether or not Zayn will rejoin One Direction before the end of 2015, I took out my phone and pressed four things (3/1 on William Hill if anyone’s interested).
Bookish: Lolito is full of obscure pop culture references that will speak to a very specific group of readers. (For example, early in the book, Etgar listens to Salem, an obscure witch house band.) Does Etgar share your tastes in entertainment, or did you curate a set of preferences for him?
BB: Some yes and some no. His tastes are purposely broad because a lot of people’s are through being exposed to so much. Instead of getting a Marilyn Manson CD from your cousin or something, you get everything all at once. Still, my tastes are limited to Vanessa Carlton and several pop punk bands, both of which also appear, I think. Vanessa Carlton seems like the most uplifting, least stupid pop songs.
Bookish: Etgar’s voice is very distinct. How did you go about deciding what Etgar would sound like on the page?
BB: That wasn’t really a decision either. I think I’m very lazy and it’s fairly close to my voice.
Bookish: In spots, your prose is similar to the writing of Tao Lin, with lots of laptops, substance abuse, and apathy. Which authors do you consider your influences for Lolito?
BB: Tao is one. Maybe not just for the number of laptops he writes about. Howard Buten is another one. Noah Cicero for sentences. Kurt Vonnegut for trying to be kind in every direction at all times. Chris Killen, Socrates Adams. John Scalzi is probably the writer I like who has had the least influence on Lolito.
Bookish: Lolito deals pretty extensively with internet romance. Why did you decide to take on this subject?
BB: When I was younger, probably like a lot of other ~12 year old children, I spent a fairly strange amount of time pretending to be a more mature human person talking to what I hoped were other more genuinely mature human people of the opposite sex. It seemed interesting to imagine how one of those relationships would play out if it had the room to. That seemed exciting even while it was happening. And that seemed different to how this stuff is talked about generally, “predators” and so on, the refusal to imagine even the possibility of some kind of meaningful elimination of loneliness between two people standing on opposite sides of a large age gap. I’m not saying there aren’t predators, just that it would be insane to assume there are only predators.
Bookish: In Dazed and Confused, you wrote that you don’t really talk to anyone on the internet anymore. That said, Lolito‘s plot is driven by internet communication. Was one decision influenced by the other?
BB: Neither was a decision. I’m not on the internet much anymore because it makes me very anxious. The possibility that a comment to one person or the entire planet could be misinterpreted or laughed at or anything else. Even things like this. Most of the time, if you say stupid things to someone in a bar it never leaves his or her head.
Bookish: What’s next for you?
BB: Trying not to take up too much space.
Ben Brooks was born in 1992 and lives in Gloucestershire. He is also the author of five other books Grow Up, Fences, An Island of Fifty, The Kasahara School of Nihilism, and Upward Coast & Sadie. Brooks’ work has been longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize, nominated for a Pushcart Prize and published in the Dzanc Best of the Web anthology.