Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Rating – 5 stars

Humbert: you swooned to records of the number one throb-and-sob idol of your coevals

Lo: Of my what? Speak English

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Humbert: I am your father, and I am speaking English, and I love you.

I know these are certainly not the most often quoted lines from Lolita, but they do define a large part of my feelings towards this book. The way Humbert speaks or should I say the way Nabokov has written Humbert, you will find yourself echoing the sentiments highlighted in red, in the above quote, especially if you aren’t well versed or have never ever learned french – a language that is used in H.H’ vocabulary quite often. A fact which can make you go crazy.

I won’t need to of course state the plot of this book – everyone does know it. What I can write about this classic is only my thoughts and feelings towards it.

So here goes nothing…..

I don’t really recall when was the first time that I heard about Lolita – only that it left an indelible impression on my mind ever since I learned of it before I had even read the book. Why? of course because it was talked about in hushed whispers, something which makes even the most mundane conversation interesting and worth eavesdropping. Not that it was my intention to eavesdrop, all I remember is two girls, older than me – in their teens; giggling and talking in hushed tones about this book they managed to get their hands on – a book mommy and daddy expressly prohibited  them from reading. I was with a friend of mine searching for a volume of the latest Nancy drew or perhaps Hardy boys from a local library when I overheard the conversation. And perhaps I was eight or nine, and it seemed fascinating to me at the time, that anyone’ parents would prohibit them from reading a book, any book – since parents mostly complained of their kids not reading enough – wasting their time playing video games or watching TV and such.

From then on I had this morbid fascination to read Lolita – which I realized only about now. Sure I saw the movie version featuring Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain but until now had never picked up the book.

Reading it the first thing that comes to my mind is I loved Nabokov, I hated Nabokov. I love that I hate him and hate that I love him. Ugh, quite a mess, I know, but that I suppose is what Nabokov intended to do with his readers when he wrote this book. He intended to mess up with their heads.

The reason I hated Nabokov – I never had taken 9, yes 9 days to read a book of only 320 pages!!! The often used french drove me crazy until I found a solution to my troubles as I came across an annotated version by Alfred Appel Jr, the man came as my savior when I was about to throw the book or probably rip it to shreds and burn those later. Okay I wouldn’t have been that dramatic but I surely would have thrown the book and abandoned it had it not been for Mr. Appel’ help. So THANK YOU Mr. Appel. You made my experience of reading Lolita easier. As I mentioned earlier, Lolita in her frustration echoes the feelings of this poor reader.

The reason that I loved him – the humorous way Nabokov has explored and written this dark and fascinating subject of course repugnant to even think about. A man in his late thirties (as per my guess) being sexually attracted towards a child and later as her step-father having an incestuous relationship with her. As frightening is the subject of this book, as charming is Nabokov in his prose and in writing these characters. A self-centred brat and a perverted filthy man, who in their own rights are iconic characters. If this isn’t a feat than I don’t know what is.

How else is it possible that lines like these not only enchant you but also strike a terror within you at the same time :

I, on my part, was as naïve as only a pervert can be.

Humbert as the book’ narrator is a monster, he is maddening, he is infuriating and yet he can be quite the joker, especially when he comes up with lines like this one

And when, by means of pitifully ardent, naïvely lascivious caresses, she of the noble nipple and massive thigh prepared me for the performance of my nightly duty, it was still a nymphet’s scent that in despair I tried to pick up, as I bayed through the undergrowth of dark decaying forests.

This book has been universally banned and acclaimed at the same time featured as it is on the list of best books ever written, only because it boldly crosses into the territories, civilized society dare not discuss, things not deemed fit to be even mentioned. People would rather shove it under a carpet than believe there can be Lolitas and Humberts among them. 

I cannot comment more on this book since I do not consider myself proficient enough to comment on the genius that is Vladimir Nabokov or the brilliance that is his creation Lolita. I can thank him for writing a book that has made an everlasting impact not only on me but every reader out there, who has picked this classic up in whatever way that it did. No person can be universally loved or hated – for every monster there are followers, for every do-gooder protesters and haters, Mr. Nabokov just about touches every sphere out there with his book – he maybe loved or he maybe hated; but he cannot be ignored. 

All I can say in the end is reading Lolita has been an enrichening experience for me.

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