Putney is an examination of control, grooming, psychology, and rape. The novel is told from three perspectives: the abuser, the victim, and the witness. Ralph, the abuser, is a famous classical musician who meets the daughter of a friend at their home one day. Daphne, the friend’s daughter, is immediately the center of Ralph’s affections. He grooms her from youth to believe he is in love with her, despite having a family and children of his own.
As Daphne’s best friend watches from the outskirts, she sees the destruction and inappropriate relationship that Ralph wreaks on Daphne. Told from the past when Daphne was a child, to Daphne as an adult, the novel explores uncomfortable topics that get the reader thinking.
The influence from Nabokov’s Lolita is apparent, but the masterfulness that Nabokov possesses, Zinovieff does not. In recent years, many Lolita-like novels have made their debut, the most notable ones read by yours truly. Zinovieff’s Putney is my least favorite of all the ones I have read. It rehashes the same concepts and ideas without adding anything new to the conversation. Two of my favorites from recent years that DO present a new dynamic on the nearly tired predator/nymphet storyline are Bryn Greenwood’s “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things” as well as Kate Elizabeth Russell’s “My Dark Vanessa.” Greenwood’s story brings an economic element to the plot and Russell’s centers around a professor and a 15-year-old student, taking aim at the academic world. Zinovieff’s novel does not bring a new element to the classic Lolita story, or take aim at other commentaries as the other two novels do.
I was pretty disappointed in feeling this way about Putney because I’d heard such positive buzz around it from large news sources. I just feel Greenwood and Russell brought more to the table. As an author, when you take on a classic narrative, you must reinvent it. That did not happen here. There was an attempt to attach this novel more to the survivor’s narrative and the #MeToo movement, but it fell flat for me. The prose and novel as a whole was a solid 3 out of 5. However, there are greater offerings in the literature world for Lolita inspired commentaries.(3 / 5)