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what i read: loLEEEta

July 7, 2011

when ardea books went out of business across the street from me, i took advantage of the 40% off sale and bought peter pan, paradise lost, and lolita. lolita was a last minute decision. i was going for dante’s inferno but changed my mind at the 11th hour.

am i glad i did? i’m not entirely sure.


it took me a while to read this book. i’m usually a speed reader, but with the start of work, i sludged my way through this story. it became translink reading material – something that i fished out of my bag for the 14 minutes that i spent on that cold metal bench at the bridgeport station, waiting for the 7:31 AM 351 crescent beach. i’d mute my ipod and keep the headphones in so that i didnt have to talk to any transit crazies, and descended into the gongshow of humbert humbert’s mind.


listen, i’m an open-minded girl. love gore, filth, and murder. read faulkner for the incest. dirty kinky shit does it for me. smut. i love. adore it. i can’t get enough of it.

but this – this was that knife-edge of too much.


i’ve had a lot of people tell me to read nabokov, lolita in particular. i think it’s because i write with plenty of adjectives (and the ever shunned adverb). i’m not trying to say that my writing is comparable to nabokov on any level of notoriety or honed skill, but in term of writing style, we are similar. lush. unapologetically lush. rude and lush and laden.

i loved the writing for that. the deep descriptions. sooty eyelashes and things that glistered and rich soil and sky and tree and skin. the specific smell of sweat, of vagina, of fingernail. it was so very visceral and so very heightened. i liked it because i was there, alongside. i was riding sidecar. i like writing that takes you down the spiral staircase, that takes you directly into the story without any qualifying or any apologies. i like writers who mess around with language, who use words where they aren’t technically supposed to be used, who jig adverbs and adjectives to suit their own purposes. i find that kind of wordplay bold and brave, and i always appreciate when someone does that.


disliked: the fucking ending. DISLIKED. DIS-LIKED. what a goddamned cop-out, this deus ex machina, this clare quilty. nabokov slathers his words onto us for the majority of the book – how are we supposed to recall one shadowy figure from one porch-side conversation that we have discounted ages ago? what a joke.

the story would have been so much stronger if one of the main characters had left of their accord – to have dolly kick the bucket in the middle of childbirth is anticlimactic and dull, and to have humbert perhaps go insane at the end and therefore call all the rest of the story into serious question – it just feels like an escape hatch. something that nabokov factored into his story in order to be able to pull his parachute cord if criticism became too heavy. i read ellison’s invisible man, and the nightmarish quality of that book – the fact that the ENTIRE story might have just been one ghoulish fever-dream – rubbed me entirely the wrong way. i do not particularly like books that have the potential to just be jokes, stories that don’t truly exist. write it, or don’t. don’t pussyfoot around it. have the moxie to do it.

character-wise, i found it hard to attach to anybody in this book. the character i was closest to liking the most was the poor charlotte haze. i don’t need to like a character to like a story, but humbert humbert was so utterly unlikable (for me) that i spent the majority of the book praying that dolly at some point manages to escape his disgusting clutches. not only that, humbert is clearly delusional. at one point, he describes his penis as “a foot” of engorged flesh. a foot?! get real. i grew so weary of the way he kept on describing how handsome he was, how much like a movie star he looked. i can’t tell if that was purposeful on nabokov’s part, or if it was just the way that men write sometimes. and it might have been possible for me to like HH and maybe therefore become more sympathetic to him and his issues (putting it lightly) but whenever he started to make the journey into sympathetic territory, he did some thing, one thing that would yank him back out of that there territory and into perversion and cruelty again.


am i glad i read it? yes, for the beautiful language. i would consider reading other books by nabokov just for the way he bends language to his will – it is masterful and fanciful and very exquisite. otherwise, i found the story to be almost boastful in a distasteful way. this is not a LOVE story, as it is advertised. it’s just a myth of rape.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 7, 2011 4:22 pm

    I have the same edition you are holding up, and I found the recommendations on the back repugnant. It’s not the most authentic love story; it’s an extended rape fantasy. (Someone once said to me that there might not be much difference. Ha ha very funny NO.)

    I do think Nabokov hauled us in and out of sympathy deliberately. We need enough sympathy to know HH is human, but not so much that we cease to think he’s a monster. It’s that he’s both that drives the crazy and the disgusting of the novel.

    I would suggest you read the reading of Lolita in /Reading Lolita in Tehran/. (What an horrible sentence). It helped me access it.

    Finally, I was recommended this book by the professor of my Philosophy of Mathematics class (yes, I know, /so/ nerdy), who explained fictionalism by an extended comparison with /Lolita/. Apparently, there’s a complex pattern in the wordplay. clare quincy’s name reversed is quincy clare, a homophone for a French phrase meaning something like “here’s the light.” And if you track humbert and quincy through the novel, they are mirror images. Which may be the case, but it doesn’t help me any. It sounds like our friend Nabokov had too much time on his hands and supposes that we do, too. And I say this as a person who LOVES ridiculous easter egg hunts through books, so if /I/ think it’s too much…

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