When Lolita first presented itself to me, I was yet a very much impressionable literature undergrad — an eighteen-year-old girl with seashells in her hair and stars flying upon the wings of her stark-black eyeliner. Now, I find it safe to say that I have, ever since, not been the same person — not because of the overrated university experience, but because of that very book. Do not fret, however, the seashells and stars are still there.
Lolita was a requirement for my American Novel course, to be read right after Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I had bought the book a month before its reading was planned, and safely placed it on the shelf beside my bed, the promise it carried within its pretty cover being the last thought in mind before I bid my day adieu.
Mine was the Penguin Red Classics edition. Its 368 pages sheathed by an illustration of a girl seated on the floor in a pink and white swimsuit, her hair gathered in a pink ribbon, her face hidden behind a nameless book. I remember gazing at it at the bookstore in complete awe of the curious feeling it evoked in me even before reading it.
For some reason, a part of me knew that the minute I ran my eyes through the first sentence of its first page, a new chapter in my life would begin. And that, precisely, is what happened.
I began reading Lolita two weeks before its reading was set to begin. I could not help myself. It was a Sunday, I had completed all the rest of my assignments, I deserved a little guilty pleasure.
I was so drawn to it, however, that I simply could not stop. Guilty pleasures tend to do that sometimes, don’t they? The initial plan was to just read the opening lines. Perhaps a page or two until sleep called my name. I soon came to understand that the triviality of “planning” oneself out did not exist in the world of Vladimir Nabokov, where even the phonetic process behind the utterance of a girl’s name is laid down and introduced as though the very spinning of the earth depends on it.
“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.”
In the world of Nabokov, one can only find themselves surrendering to the word, head over heels, mornings turned into midnights, hearts turned into butterflies set free.
I went into class the following day eager to share the news of my early undertaking with my professor, not out of a desire to impress her, but to thank her for introducing me to such graceful magic dressed in the mesmeric words of the Russian-American writer and entomologist.
As the days and the pages passed me by, my obsession with Lolita grew uncontrollable. I was utterly and madly hooked. It was not the controversy of protagonist Humbert Humbert’s pedophilic fetishes that appealed to me, nor was it his murder of a mother to reach her twelve-year-old daughter, but rather Nabokov’s finesse in depicting such a perfect, perceptible image of the manipulative powers of such people.
Nabokov’s words, placed in the tongue of Humbert Humbert who happens to be the narrator of his own story, are concocted in such seductive allure that the reader will be so lost in the promised beauty of the sentences that they find themselves forgetting about the wickedness that the thirty-six-year-old character embodies, and represents. Again, only reveals the brilliance of Nabokov in pinpointing the cunning nature of such people.
I will not go too much into the details of the storyline — I say this hoping I have not already spoiled anything for you if Lolita is yet on your to-read list!
However; I will say this: I have read Lolita four times in the past five years. Perhaps a bit more — I have lost count. Truth be told, I would not mind returning to it a hundred times. As a writer myself, Nabokov’s spectacular prowess in sculpting his plot, be it in Lolita or in any other of his many equally-enthralling works, has vastly touched me, and continues to do so until this day.
The only harshness of Lolita, contrary to many critics’ opinions, is that it ends. The only reason to feel direct rage at the Nabokov name is for the fact that Vladimir’s bloodline ended with his only son, Dmitri.
After completing my first reading of Lolita, I must confess I had quite a hard time trying to find pleasure in any other book. Oh, this one was second to none. Is second to none.
As I had shut the final page of the book, it was as though time regained its presence upon my shoulders. I had returned to the real world. And thus, I resorted to any vessel possible that could reconnect me to Nabokov’s unmatchable words — the two film adaptations, his interviews, his letters to his wife Véra. I even penned an additional chapter for Lolita mimicking his writing style, in an attempt to carry on his legacy, perhaps make him proud, wherever land he may be roaming in now.
To the reader who is yet unfamiliar with Lolita, may my testimonial guide you towards losing yourself in the Nabokovian land, and eventually, coming to realize that through that very venture, you have found aspects of yourself you did not know existed.
You will thank me later.