Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
Did you ever read a book that just struck you dumb with its artistry? Traveling back in time, I have to say the first book that had such an impact on me was Vladimir Nabokov‘s Lolita. Such was the power of Nabokov’s artistry with words that I stayed with a book that otherwise wouldn’t have earned a spot on my list of top literary works. Humbert Humbert is pathetic (in addition to being a pedophile). Lolita is selfish (which, granted, is not entirely her fault), Quilty is creepy (made even more so by Peter Seller’s portrayal in the film), and Charlotte is simply a sacrificial character—removed from the picture in order to advance the plot.
I’m all for anti-heroes and dark comedies; it’s just that this particular set of characters, and this particular plot, wouldn’t usually intrigue me. But then there’s that voice of the author. Such thoughts and observations he puts in pathetic Humbert’s head! Such provocative language he gives to Humbert as our antihero thinks of his lovely Lolita.
Anyone who has experienced the longing of obsessive love (lust!) can relate some to Humbert, I know. We can’t condone his obsession, but we can understand the feeling of obsession, and, even, the disappointment when obsession does not lead to seduction. But I don’t think this is what makes the work universally loved and adored. No, it’s the language. It’s the mastery of Nabokov’s writing. It’s this Russian author’s love affair with English. Because when all is said and done, and we have turned the last page, we realize that it is we, the readers, who have been seduced.
So, what do you think of Lolita? Am I just wrong about my take? And what books have you read that seduced you with their exceptional artistry?