“Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov
(First publication: 1955 / This edition: Penguin Classics 2012)
Taken with red orchids, an aromatic bookmark from Karmakamet, and a set of Matryoshka dolls I got in Russia—the dolls make me think of the character “Lolita” and her being both mature and immature for her age, and Russia is Nabokov’s nationality.
And the rest is rust and stardust. (pg.292)
Where do I even begin…
This is one of my toptoptop favorites. I would always list this as one of my top 5 favorite books. I was craving some Nabokov and decided to re-read “Lolita”. Third time reading it, and it still took my breath away like it did the first read.
I got this book some time in 2012 in Bangkok during a school holiday. It was my first Nabokov purchase and I just felt that I should read this classic, even though I didn’t really know what it was about. I read a few pages and lost interest and left it here in Bangkok. I was actually studying in Tokyo that time and didn’t even feel like I had to bring it with me.
I didn’t reconnect with it until early 2014 when I read Alexa Chung’s autobiography “It”, and she mentioned “Lolita” (the films), and the urge to read it came back so strongly that I told my mom to find it on my shelf and bring it with her to Tokyo the next time she went to see me. I was more focused on reading it the next time around and……. it changed my life forever.
I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever;
but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita. (pg.72)
I became kind of obsessed with the book that I was telling all my friends about it and recommending it to everyone. I even had discussions over drinks about it with my colleagues at my internship. And naturally, I wanted to see the films after reading—I highly recommend the 1962 one by Stanley Kubrick (over the 1997 one). The Kubrick one’s so impressive, but… pleasepleaseplease read the book first, if you haven’t, because I think that’s really the only way you can see the “beauty” of this dark, gritty story.
I read a few Nabokovs since, like “The Original of Laura”, “Transparent Things”, and “Pnin”, but found them all so dull. Nothing can compare to “Lolita”, so I kind of strayed away from Nabokov for a while (even though I still considered him one of the writers I admire the most). And then I went to St. Petersburg a little over a month ago and went to visit his house—and that’s when all my love for the book “Lolita” came rushing back and compelled me to re-read it again. (Here is my post about the trip to his house.) I had to get this Penguins Classics edition (hardcover) because it’s so gorgeous and so elegant. However, I ended up not reading from this one—because it just looks so delicate that I don’t want to risk dirtying when I take it with me to work and whatnot; so I just re-read from my first original paperback edition.
First English edition of “Lolita” displayed at the Vladimir Nabokov House Museum in St. Petersburg. My post here.
Anyway…onto the story itself. It’s so notorious because of the perverse nature and content of the story. When I went to the Vladimir Nabokov House Museum and my mom saw “Lolita”, she recognized that “it’s a famous book” but didn’t know what it was about—and when I tried to explain it to her, I found it difficult to describe the story without her thinking that her daughter is a pervert and reads psychotic stories about pedophiles.
It is a story about a pedophile—but what most people don’t know (those that have never read or seen the films) is that the girl, Lolita, plays her flirty, seductive parts in it as well. So, classic case: “There’s two sides to every story.” And even though it is a dark story with many perverse bits—lots of it made my cringe—Nabokov has this beautiful and magical way of writing that in the end, managed to make me feel so sorry for the “monster” of the story. Each time I read this, the ending always makes me choke up and want to cry. The last page—the last two paragraphs; if I ever need to make myself cry, I just have to read these two paragraphs and I can just start bawling. Nabokov is able to make it so that I don’t think that Humbert Humbert is a monstrous pedophile, but a man desperately and genuinely in love—and that I understand him and feel sympathetic for him. I am able to understand why he is so in love with Lolita, and I am able to really believe that he really does love her—that it’s not just lust.
As surprising as it sounds, I feel like there’s so much human emotions in this story. You just feel so much.
Like I said, Nabokov has this beautiful way of writing. Aside from the emotional parts, I also love the way he uses words and the way he describes everything in unique detailed ways that you just see and feel what he’s trying to convey. It’s obvious that he loves word-play—nymph, nymphet, nymphetique, pre-Dolorian. (There’s even a display of his scrabble board at his house museum) Here’s a line I admire so much (excuse the perverseness, but I think it’s really good): “[…]and then pulled the pistol’s foreskin back, and then enjoyed the orgasm of the crushed trigger.” (pg.313)
You see??? He writes like that. It’s just so freakin’ goooood.
PLEASE READ THIS BOOK. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT WITH ALL MY HEART.
And if you’ve already read it, RE-READ IT. YOU KNOW IT’S SO GOOD.
Here are some of my favorite lines from the book (Penguins Essentials Edition):
We loved each other with a premature love, marked by a fierceness that so often destroys adult lives. (pg.17)
We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. (pg.199)
You see, I loved her. It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight. (pg.307)
I loved you. I was a pentapod monster, but I loved you. I was despicable and brutal, and turpid, and everything, mais je t’aimais, je t’aimais! And there were times when I knew how you felt, and it was hell to know it, my little one. Lolita girl, brave Dolly Schiller. (pg.324)
And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita. (pg.352)