reading: Lolita

February 15, 2016


“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.

Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.”

― Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

The novel Lolita is both repellent and beautiful. It is a story that draws the reader into the account of Humbert Humbert, a man in love with a child, who proclaims himself an author, pedophile, and murderer in one breath. The reader both condemns Humbert for his behavior and is complicit in his actions by reading the account of his possession of Lolita. 

The sentences and framing of the story are gorgeous. It is a story within a story, preluded by a fictional psychologist who found the manuscript, and then penned by Humbert himself looking back on his past. I was hooked immediately by the narrator's self-awareness and the sly reveal of his murderous action. He deceives and reveals while trying to explain his actions. His stepdaughter, Lolita, is frozen like a taxidermied butterfly, stuck with the pin and glass frame of her "father's" story. The reader observes her, but cannot free her. 

It's a difficult read. The content is off putting, but the writing is gorgeous. If you can make it through, it is worth it.

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