The beginning of this year, I had resolved to plug the gaping holes in my knowledge of English literature. I’m starting off with the famous works, the “must-reads”, the kinds that are always in a Top-10 before you die list you see on Amazon. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov easily sits in the top 10 of such lists.
This isn’t going to be a thorough review, to be honest. I very much doubt I can say anything here about this book that hasn’t already been said. Still, it doesn’t hurt to pen my own thoughts down here. For those who haven’t read it yet–here be spoilers.
On a technical level, I am not nearly eloquent enough to describe Nabokov’s grandiose love affair with the English language in this book. Lolita just floored me with its rich, rich language. This was my first read and I am quite certain of the fact that I must have missed out plenty of subtle aspects of the language Nabokov uses. The books has a vastly rich vocabulary, with Nabokov inventing new words, co-joining words here and there, and just toying with the language, moulding it to fit the meaning he wants to convey. The best I can describe it is that the words flow. Quite a few words, I could not find in the dictionary of my kindle, nor wikipedia or any other internet avenues, and yet, given the context, the meaning was often clear.
Lolita deals with a highly controversial subject, and yet never once is the author vulgar in any of his descriptions, using flowery language (such flowery language!), to describe the shocking and disturbing acts he commits. The language is pretty much the sole reason I ventured on with my reading and didn’t drop the book. Had it been crass even at the slightest level, I’m willing to bet it would not have as much admirers as it does.
This book also is perhaps the first thing I have read in which the protagonist is not a hero, a good person, but is quite the opposite, a perverse pedophile. Yet he thinks of himself as a person who is undeniably in love, and right from the start, when we learn about his proclivities, he begins to construct a defence for his “jury”, the readers. Humbert is, of course, a highly unreliable narrator, yet it is very tempting to fall for his charming and flowery language and start sympathising with him, despite him confessing his depravity right from the start, and even pleading, making himself out to be a victim of childhood trauma, or someone suffering from an affliction. Lo, Dolly, Dolores, Lolita is often portrayed as a smart and ruthless girl who just stomps on poor Humbert’s heart and uses him. But that’s a trap. Even Humbert himself comes to realise this at the end.
Overall, this was one of the finest English novels that I have read, and I’m already planning a re-read. Lolita is a solid 5 out of 5 stars on my Goodreads account.