Friday, March 14, 2008

Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita, light of so many lives, fire of so many loins, has become so much more than merely the book Nabokov wrote. The story of the young nymphet, Dolores (Lolita) Haze, and her seducer, Humbert Humbert, lives beyond the confines of the novel. In all the fuss about the story (and the films and Lolita-variations that keep appearing) Nabokov's novel is sometimes forgotten. This is unfortunate, because Nabokov's novel is a remarkable work of artistry, among the finest written in English in the second half of the twentieth century.
The story is well-known: Humbert Humbert has a thing for young lasses, "nymphets" as he calls them, certain maidens "between the age limits of nine and fourteen" whose allure certain "bewitched travelers" can succumb to. Succumb he does, marrying Dolores Haze's mother, becoming the girl's sole guardian, travelling across the country with her, losing her.

It is a tragic love story, a paean to America, a sordid tale humanized, a work of comic genius. Most of all it is Nabokov's writing: artfully crafted the book is a delight to read (and re-read -- as is necessary to uncover some of its secrets).
What happens in the book is terrible -- and its focus, which is, after all, around a man of about forty engaging in sexual relations with a barely pubescent girl, is particularly nasty -- but Nabokov humanizes his characters, and though what Humbert does is unforgivable the reader is entranced by the story. It is a peculiar thing that Nabokov has wrought here, but it is brilliant. Few novels are both as sad and as amusing as this one, with Nabokov mixing and managing both tragedy and comedy perfectly.

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