Sunday, August 31, 2008


"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-tah: 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."
Nabokov's Lolita did not do much for me the first time I read it. I was focused on the plot --middle-aged man! prepubescent girl!-- but I don't know how I could have been so wrapped up in the details of pedophilic seduction that I could have missed the extreme beauty of the writing. Unfortunately, I bet a lot of people start, if not finish, this book because they are titillated by the plot; I can only hope some of those readers come to see the beauty as well.
The plot is, at this point in history, old news. Humbert Humbert, a European gentleman with a taste for eroticizing certain young girls (who he refers to as "nymphets," magical creatures half-human half-other that are out to drive him mad with desire) that was supposedly imbedded in him by a thwarted romance with a girl of twelve or thirteen when he was the same age, comes into custodianship of twelve-year-old Lolita (Dolores, Dolly, et al.) and makes her his mistress (or slave, or abused child). Which is obviously deplorable, of course. The disconnect comes between the sordid plot and the absolute fragile feverish beauty of Nabakov's writing. I literally felt like I was hallucinating while I was reading; even though Humbert thinks (and does) the most awful things, things I would never in my worst nightmares actually think or believe, I did in fact almost believe them when he wrote. It was one of those reading experiences where reality simply ceased to function normally for me while I was in the book. (This was exceedingly disturbing, needless to say, but quite the feat on Nabokov's part.) Oddly, I'm having a hard time finding a quote that in any way shows what I mean. But for me, this book was so lovely as a whole that that's okay; I'm fine with leaving it as is. I don't think I could capture what I felt anyway.


Anonymous said...

You should read The End of Alice by A.M Homes. I was disturbed by the fact that I felt sympathy for both pederast lead characters, but it's really an amazing book.

pulley-whipped said...

i have a huge feminist disconnect when i read books like lolita b/c i AM titillated usually, then disgusted with myself for being so. i don't know how to consume the abuse of women's bodies in a way that makes me feel at all comfortable. despite how good the writing is.

ammie said...

I think that, in a way, that's part of why it's such a completely amazing book. Because it's so obviously wrong, but he's drawing you into this world where (to the narrator) it's perfectly acceptable to sleep with little girls, and for me I was so deeply immersed in the story that he seemed somewhat rational at times. It was creepy and scary, but ultimately I was impressed. And, yes, disgusted with myself. But I think it takes a good writer to really make me feel like that.
And Louise, once I recover from Lolita, I'll give that one a shot.

Rosiecat said...

Ammie, your post inspires me to give Lolita a try. Beautiful writing is beautiful writing, even if its subject is horrifying or morally outrageous. It's one of the mysteries of the written word.

I am glad to live in a culture where we are free to read whatever we please. I hope with all my heart that we keep that freedom. Or fight like hell if someone tries to take it away.

ammie said...

Yes, please read it and let me know what you think! I think that and Middlesex may have become my favorite books.