Saturday, August 18, 2007

Lolita by Valdimir Nabokov

Note: I am not qualified to talk intelligently about this book.

This book has a stigma attached to it. Most people don’t really know anything about it (until recently I would have had to include myself) and assume that it is nothing more than glorified pornography. Believe me I got some weird looks while reading this. Just sitting on a bench at a children’s playground, wearing my long trench coat, with my puppy by my side, and my sign that announced “Free Candy.” People can be so judgmental.

Lolita is written from the perspective of Humbert Humbert—a pseudonym taken by the man who is telling this story. He recounts in the form of a diary/confession his experiences with Dolores Haze (aka Lolita). The very first lines of the book provide a good summation of his feelings for the girl: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” Later, Humbert provides an unflattering description of himself: “I am lanky, big-boned, wooly-chested Humbert Humbert, with thick black eyebrows and a queer accent, and a cesspool of rotting monsters behind my slow boyish smile.”

There is obviously a sexual nature to this novel, but Lolita refrains from being lurid. Just as a good murder mystery is more that just page after page of morbid descriptions of people being killed, Lolita is about more than just one taboo sexual experience after another. While Humbert is really a horrible person, he is also human. I often felt sorry for him.

Lolita is one of the best books that I have ever read. Nabokov’s mastery of the English language is phenomenal. I can’t begin to describe how excellent the writing was from beginning to end. He is exceptionally witty. I laughed aloud much more that I thought I would (which was never). Although I don’t know much about Nabokov, I can safely say that the man is a genius, and that much of his writing would have gone over my head, completely unnoticed, if it were not for this addition. Lolita is full of puns and allusions ranging from literature to history to zoology. And that is just scratching the surface.

While this annotated addition was helpful in some ways, it was quite burdensome at times. For example, it took me much longer to read this book than it should have because I was always flipping to the back to read an annotation. Even worse, some of the annotations gave away future plot points. The first time this happened I stopped reading the annotations nearly altogether. Highly annoying.

The introduction by the book’s annotator, Alfred Appel, Jr., becomes extremely pretentious quite quickly. I did finish it, but besides the biographical information about Nabokov and description of how Lolita was first published, I found the 51-page introduction unbelievably tedious. This edition would be perfect for someone who was already familiar with Lolita and wanted additional insights. However, The Annotated Lolita should be avoided by one who is reading the novel for the first time.

Check out Christopher’s review of Lolita, and Brent’s review of Lolita.

8 comments:

Christopher said...

2 down, 4 to go

Carlton said...

I am confused by this comment.

Christopher said...

Four people still have to read Lolita.

Carlton said...

Ah...gotcha.

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