Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)

It was a surprise to most people I knew that Lolita was a book that I had not read yet. After much praise, I read the book that attained a classic status soon after its publication in 1955, and gave Vladimir Nabokov the fame that he is known for. It was also depicted as a movie (directed by Stanley Kubrick, another reason to watch it), a movie that I have not watched. The book is about a forward and controversial subject like hebephilia, and how Dolores Haze (better known as Lolita, which was a name that the narrator give her) becomes sexually involved with a man three decades older than her, Humbert. Humbert is a classic unreliable narrator (like, for example, Holden in “The Catcher in the rye”) and to believe his melancholy and wit will be the biggest mistake a reader shall make, albeit a wonderful one. An unreliable narrator is such whose sporadic and not-well-constructed memories cannot be trustworthy in particular, but it may or may not fool the reader into believing him/her.

I finished the appropriately long book within a week, since the writer made it impossible for me wait to find out what happens next. It is a slightly tricky book to read, since there are certain metaphors that are extremely difficult to understand and interpret. It is a difficult book to read content-wise too, there are intricate sexual descriptions of relations between an adult and a child. The impression that follows the book was the reason why I was slightly embarrassed of carrying and reading the book in public. Nonetheless, I did eventually manage to understand the book the way I think Nabokov intended. Like most Russian authors (even though I’ve only ever been familiar with two, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Anton Chekhov), Nabokov maintains the poetic fluidity that is rarely found in books these days. If there is one author of a book that I’d like to talk to, it would be Nabokov. The man behind the book was a definite genius, there is no doubting that. From how Humbert does (or doesn’t) win you over, to the sheer message of the book was something that only an experienced and insightful writer can accomplish. The book is definitely poetic and rhythmic, and one can tell that the narrator is an intelligent, sophisticated and culturally sharp man.

My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

The book may even make you go slower than you intend, for it is necessary that Nabokov takes you through a slow and sensual journey of “love” between an adult man, and a child of twelve. Yes, the main theme of the book is intense and a taboo, and one may start the book wondering if this particular author will change your mind about anything. I have not known a lot of people who have read this book, but certain reviews make me realise that there were readers who were thoroughly convinced of Humbert’s love for the sexually precocious Lolita. He makes her a victim of his sexual prowess after he becomes her stepfather (which was an attempt to stay close to her to begin with). And we see Dolores and Humbert travel through America like no one has ever done before.

There is not much I can say about this book without instilling certain expectations in the reader’s mind and that is definitely not how the book needs to be read. If there is one book you read, it must be this. But not without enough company to talk about it; this book will leave you thoughtful and roaring to exchange ideas, and so I have been since I finished it without any solace. I am not surprised that this book is generally in the top 5 of books that need to be read in a lifetime in almost all lists, and the fact that it was written in the 1940s is even more surprising. If you are someone who likes poetry in general, then this book is a must-read. If not, it is still a book that will leave you food for thought. Either way, whatever one can learn from books or stories, this book will teach you.

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