Monday, July 9, 2007

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

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.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

I remember listening to the song "Westfall" by Okkervil River once in the car with my mother, a song about a teenage boy who murders a pair of girls. My mother's response was, "Ew, who would want to listen to a song about something like that?," and I expect a lot of people unfamiliar with the reputation (or familiar with it) of Lolita have a similar reaction: Who would want to read a book about a child molester, much less one written in the first person? But that, I think, is the magic of Lolita. There is a great movie The Woodsman, in which Kevin Bacon plays a child molester released after his prison term, struggling to survive though the world is unsurprisingly hostile to him. That movie accomplished the difficult task of making the viewer sympathize with a child molester, Lolita goes one step further and asks the reader to empathize with a child molester, to occupy his own frame of mind and try to understand him. It's vile and disgusting to be sure, and not exactly appealing, but satisfying in the fact that it gives the reader a great insight into sin, madness, and evil.

I could say a lot about Lolita, but since we're all going to read it, the only other thing I'll say is that as far as judging the book simply by its prose, Nabokov is one of the best writers I've ever read, I think, and English not even his first (or second) language. It's been said that he's one of the best writers of the 20th Century in both English and Russian, and that's quite impressive.

Finally, an interesting thought from Nabokov's afterword:

[The publishing companies'] refusal to buy the book was based not on my treatment of the theme but on the theme itself, for there are at least three themes which are utterly taboo as far as most American publishers are concerned. The two others are: a Negro-White marriage which is a complete and glorious success resulting in lots of children and granchildren; and the total atheist who lives a happy and useful life, and dies in his sleep at the age of 106.


Carlton said...

Atheists don't die. They live on in the eyes of children.

Nihil Novum said...

Apparently, you misused the word pederasty, you perv.