Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Review of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Shockingly mesmerizing love story?

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov flirts with perversity, flaunts literary devices tastefully, evokes admiration and disgust in equal measure, and remains to be an extremely powerful potrayal of human emotion. Much has been said about underlying political metaphor in having Humbert as the european intellectual drifter "romancing" Lolita, his foster American child, and about the morality of the whole saga. With or without refering to these metaphors, the writing retains its charm for the engrossing word play.

There are no graphic details of sexual acts, and this is no easy read for those who consider pornography as literary composition. This is not a two cent sex thriller as sometimes the colloquial references make it seem. This is not about escapades of an old man travelling around the United States with a young nymphet. This is not even like Lady Chatterley's Lover, which sizzles with the passion of its protagonists. Lolita is about that love, that fire which consumes everyone that comes in contact with it. This is a feverish tale of a seemingly perverted Humbert sinking deeper and deeper into his fascination with nymphets.

The novel is rich in wit and satire, many descriptions of nature or Humbert's thoughts and feelings are sheer poetry, and the narration is both fascinating and intriguing. Intriguing in capturing an array of ideas and acts that are not only difficult to put on paper, but as history testifies, immediately make the author target of ridicule and condemnation. Like most others, I started reading the book with some prejudices and some precepts. Little did I know that my flight in a plane would show me the outer space: such is the power of the book.

Yes, the book lives at the very edge. Nabokov romances with the baseline. Small errors could have meant the ball landed out of the court, and the game wouldn't be as exciting as it is now. There is a suspense that thrives on our knowledge of HH's ideas and motives, and our knowledge that none of the other characters share the information the reader has. There is a sadness that is undercurrent of most love stories. There is a sense of disgust, for the whole idea of a twelve year old being ploughed by an old man is sickening to people of our generation and our education. Like Nabokov points out, till fifty years ago, a girl would start procreating as soon as she hit the teenage. There is an awe imposed on the reader by the way this taut story proceeds, the choice of sentences, dialogue, words reflects why Nabokov's Lolita occupies such a prominent place in the world literature.

Pray do read it. Read it piecemeal. It is a difficult but fascinating read. Recommended highly for everyone. It does not matter how you perceive Humbert or Lolita or anyone in the novel; you could run into similar characters on the street. Make allowances for HH's obsession, Lolita's nature, and then you will see Lolita is like a lotus blooming in the mud of passion and perversity. To pick this flower, you need to wade though the mud, and I believe it will be worth the effort. Reading this novel, like the story it tells, is full of torment. It will test and tease your own thoughts about morality, sexuality, sensuality and love. Like every great book, you will be forced into understanding your own self, as well as everyone around you better. Shocking, but mesmerizing tale. Must read.

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