Before going into my thoughts on Lolita, just a quick note to express my excitement about the World Cup. I don’t know if the fever has hit where you live, but over here the Headquarters of the European Union guarantees many nationalities, and it’s great fun! Too bad our games are smack in the middle of the afternoon. During those times, me and the only other Portuguese in the office discreetly grab our laptops and work in our big meeting room – the only place with a TV.
And on a completely different note, for the fans of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, HBO just released a teaser for The Game of Kings. It’s tinny, but it shows great promise – I’m so looking forward to the start of the series!
Now for Lolita.
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.”
I didn’t exactly know what to expect with this one. It seemed the type of book that polarizes people. The American Library Association listed it as one the most “frequently challenged” (aka proposed for ban) classics, while many respected sources list it as one of the best novels of all time.
In the end, I found it wonderful. It takes a genius to choose this plot (this main character!) and pull off such a luminous book. It took me a while to choose the right word for the previous sentence, but I think that luminous is what best describes the impression the book left me with: incandescent lust and endless golden landscapes. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s a love story or find it the least romantic, far from it. But even with it’s terrible theme, Lolita emerges as a great piece of literary fiction.
It’s for sure a God-send to all the literary academia/geeks out there. There is something deeper about it that goes behind technique and style and the metaphors can be endless (Humbert as Russia and Lolita as Communism. Humbert as the Old World and Lolita as America). Nabokov once said “The good reader is one who has imagination, memory, a dictionary, and some artistic sense – which sense I propose to develop in myself and in others whenever I have the chance.” With Lolita he had the chance. Big time.
The sentences are beautiful. The narration is frantic and untrustworthy. The characters are three-dimensional. The story, with a different author, might have easily fallen into pornography, but Nabokov ensures it remains classy and yet deeply disturbing. Somehow, imperceptibly, we realize we don’t quite know what to think. Are we support to understand or pity Humbert? Should we fall in love with Lolita?
My thoughts were often on Lolita. Who was she? We often see her through different lenses: the story’s horrible theme, Humbert’s sick mind, the tragical-comic writing style, but Lolita remains out of reach and only very rarely do we get a glimpse at her true self (or do we?). But when it happens, what a blow the reader gets! When for instance, Humbert mentions she cries in bed when she thinks he’s asleep or when she asks him about her mothers’ grave – it’s like a loud bang waking us from the dream the beautiful language trapped us in.
One of my favorite parts of the book happens when Humbert realizes he never really knew Lolita at all:
Once, in a sunset-ending street of Beardsley, she turned to little Eva Rosen (I was taking both nymphets to a concert and walking behind them so close as almost to touch them with my person), she turned to Eva, and so very serenely and seriously, in answer to something the other had said about its being better to die than hear Milton Pinski, some local schoolboy she knew, talk about music, my Lolita remarked: “You know, what’s so dreadful about dying is that you are completely on your own”; and it struck me, as my automaton knees went up and down, that I simply did not know a thing about my darling’s mind and that quite possibly, behind the awful juvenile clichès, there was in her a garden and a twilight, and a palace gate–dim and adorable regions which happened to be lucidly and absolutely forbidden to me, in my polluted rags and miserable convulsions.
Another thing that also might have helped me appreciate Lolita, was I heard it read by Jeremy Irons. And he is, quite simply, perfectly disquieting.