Monday, July 19, 2010

Lolita

When I first started reading Nabokov’s Lolita, I had no idea it would be one of the funniest books I have ever read. I heard a lot about Lolita before reading it, so there were some things I knew already. I knew it would be beautiful. I knew it would twist my sympathies until I was rooting for the very type of criminal I would normally want to string up by the ears. I knew the vocabulary would be difficult. But I had no idea that the book would be HILARIOUS.

Imagine me, exercising like a gerbil on the elliptical machine at the gym, holding my 1977 paperback edition of the book. Its cover is adult-video-store-window black, the word “LOLITA” spelled out in fiery orange and yellow caps on the front. White men in their sixties see me reading it from where they sit on the exercise bikes, and they take it as an invitation to leer at me. An uptight soccer mom does a double take when she sees it and then shakes her head like she is trying to erase Nabokov’s existence from the Etch-A-Sketch in her mind. But I’m not paying much attention to any of these people, because I’m laughing so hard every few lines that I’m choking on my own saliva, nearly losing my balance on the elliptical machine.

The book is so hilarious because of the way the narrator addresses people and objects in his mind. When a convenient accident occurs, he doesn’t just call it “coincidence”. He calls it “the long hairy arm of Coincidence”. He gives fate the nickname “McFate” and talks about it like it’s some chap hanging out in a bar. Since the narrator is entirely uninterested in grown women, when one flirts with him, he tells the reader, “Her long brown legs were about as attractive to me as those of a chestnut mare.” When he contemplates drowning Lolita’s mother during an outing to the lake, he makes humorous use of parenthesis, saying, “So there was Charlotte swimming on with dutiful awkwardness (she was a very mediocre mermaid), but not without a certain solemn pleasure (for was not her merman by her side?)…”

And so Lolita joins Samuel Beckett’s Molloy on the list of most unexpectedly hilarious books I have ever read.

3 comments:

  1. I never knew exactly what the book was like or what it was even about, but now I think I'll give it a read!

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  2. Nabokov is a very twisted, utterly HIGH-larious man. Pale Fire is another novel by him that is just as funny, in just as weird a way. I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone looking to get into Nabokov.

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  3. Pale Fire is truly one of the most fascinating, weird, hilarious, and touching books you'll ever read. Not for the Nabokov neophyte, though, in my opinion. The structure is challenging, to say the least.

    The best place to go next is Despair, which is a novella and just as funny as Lolita in that nice Nabs way.

    I'm glad you're enjoying Lolita. For some reason, I though you'd already read it. As I've told you before, it's my favorite book of all time, and its humor is just one of many reasons. The incredible subtle twists of language are another -- it's nearly impossible to believe that English was Nabokov's third language. He was an absolute master of so many languages.

    I've come to accept that the people who judge others (one way or another) for reading Lolita are the people who've never read it themselves. It's not a book about a pedophile and his sexcapades. Well, it is. But it's really a book about what can be done with language when it's manipulated by an absolute genius. It's a delight for any reader or writer and I believe everybody who wants to write seriously needs to read as much of Nabokov's works as they can.

    Despair next. Then Bend Sinister. Then you'll be ready for Pale Fire and Ada. ;)

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