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.