Jumpseat book of the month: LOLITA

There’s only word to describe the book about one man’s obsession with a young girl, written by Vladimir Nabokov, and that is simply AMAZING. I’m not kidding. I couldn’t wait for the beverage service to end so I could see what was going to happen next. Sure the subject matter is a bit..well…creepy, but it is one of the most well written books I’ve ever read. Only Nabokov can take a monster like Humbert and turn him into a likable person. Lolita has changed my life, my writing life that is, in a way that very few books in the past have done. I love Nabokov’s writing style, and I think you will, too. Normally I don’t keep books, but this one is going right up on the shelf next to The Secret History, Big Love, Catcher in the Rye, Bel Canto, Poisonwood Bible, She’s Come Undone, etc. So if you’re looking for a good read to take on your next flight, look no farther. Lolita is so good, in fact, you may find yourself wishing the flight were a little longer. Here’s a review from Amazon.com…

Despite its lascivious reputation, the pleasures of Lolita are as much intellectual as erogenous. It is a love story with the power to raise both chuckles and eyebrows. Humbert Humbert is a European intellectual adrift in America, haunted by memories of a lost adolescent love. When he meets his ideal nymphet in the shape of 12-year-old Dolores Haze, he constructs an elaborate plot to seduce her, but first he must get rid of her mother. In spite of his diabolical wit, reality proves to be more slippery than Humbert’s feverish fantasies, and Lolita refuses to conform to his image of the perfect lover.

Playfully perverse in form as well as content, riddled with puns and literary allusions, Nabokov’s 1955 novel is a hymn to the Russian-born author’s delight in his adopted language. Indeed, readers who want to probe all of its allusive nooks and crannies will need to consult the annotated edition. Lolita is undoubtedly, brazenly erotic, but the eroticism springs less from the “frail honey-hued shoulders … the silky supple bare back” of little Lo than it does from the wantonly gorgeous prose that Humbert uses to recount his forbidden passion:

She was musical and apple-sweet … Lola the bobby-soxer, devouring her immemorial fruit, singing through its juice … and every movement she made, every shuffle and ripple, helped me to conceal and to improve the secret system of tactile correspondence between beast and beauty–between my gagged, bursting beast and the beauty of her dimpled body in its innocent cotton frock.

Much has been made of Lolita as metaphor, perhaps because the love affair at its heart is so troubling. Humbert represents the formal, educated Old World of Europe, while Lolita is America: ripening, beautiful, but not too bright and a little vulgar. Nabokov delights in exploring the intercourse between these cultures, and the passages where Humbert describes the suburbs and strip malls and motels of postwar America are filled with both attraction and repulsion, “those restaurants where the holy spirit of Huncan Dines had descended upon the cute paper napkins and cottage-cheese-crested salads.” Yet however tempting the novel’s symbolism may be, its chief delight–and power–lies in the character of Humbert Humbert. He, at least as he tells it, is no seedy skulker, no twisted destroyer of innocence. Instead, Nabokov’s celebrated mouthpiece is erudite and witty, even at his most depraved. Humbert can’t help it–linguistic jouissance is as important to him as the satisfaction of his arrested libido. –Simon Leake


One comment

  1. I absolutely agree – only a literary genius of Nabokov’s caliber could render a despicable pedophile into a sympathetic, humorous and ultimately tragic figure.

    “Lolita” is one of my favorite all-time novels – powerful, exquisitely written, darkly humorous, fiendishly clever and deeply haunting. I have read and re-read it many times over the years and each read seems to unearth a new gem or fresh observation overlooked on previous readings.

    Unfortunately, many readers are so put off by the subject matter that they are unwilling to give the book itself an objective try.

    For those who have formed an opinion of “Lolita” based only on the subject matter, I urge you to read this literary masterpiece for yourself – you are in for a wonderful surprise.

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