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Lo. Lee. Ta.
September 27, 2010 - Meg Alexander
It's never too late to start over, which is probably why it's a good thing my computer just decided to close out the blog I was working on, which was essentially just a rambling to fill space. But wait ... that's what this is turning into as well. To the point!
"It's never too late to start over" has applied to so many things I've enjoyed in the past few days: A theme in the film version of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; a message to the creators of Pushing Daisies, who I am begging to revive this gem of a TV show; the documentary Bela Fleck: Lay Down Your Heart, which I would not have stumbled across on Netflix at midnight Saturday had I not given up on three other movies due to technical errors ...)
But let’s focus at this time on Nabokov's Lolita. I began reading it several years ago after finishing Reading Lolita in Tehran. (Great memoir, by the way.) For long-forgotten reasons, I was distracted and never got past the first few pages. I picked it up again after completing Staggering Genius and now find myself halfway through this witty, wicked masterpiece. Thus far I am in love, though it almost seems a shameful thing to publicly acknowledge I am even reading Lolita, let alone enjoying it, given the novel's infamy.
Of course, everyone knows the story, or think they know the story. It’s about a pedophile and a little girl. What more is there to know? But it's a fascinating story, a confession, really, and who doesn't love a good confession?
Humbert Humbert is addressing you, the reader, a member of the jury. He’s presenting his case, knowing that he’s sick, but still desperately wanting to explain himself, to justify his actions. Lolita becomes, in a way, a psychological study, a study not only of Humbert Humbert, but of you, the reader, and your reaction to Humbert’s story.
As a writer — I cringe placing the same label upon myself as that of Nabokov — his techniques are ... are ... are ... wow. What else can I say? His grasp of the English language is superb. He’s a marvel with words, and the text is perhaps best enjoyed when spoken aloud. Take for instance narrator Humbert Humbert's description of his love child in Chapter 1. "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." Genius. Need I say more?
As for the story itself? Again, fascinating. And shocking, obviously, though most of the shock factor actually comes from Lolita’s devious nature, not Humbert Humbert.
Lolita is a love story and a tragedy, creating dread in its readers as they foresee the impending demise of both Lolita and the narrator.
But to my surprise I’ve found it’s also a comedy. Humbert Humbert's ego is such that one can't help but laugh. Out loud. In the waiting room of Dulcimer Medical Center.
The situations in which Humbert finds himself — avoiding American housewives trying to woo him as they butcher the French language, trying to converse intelligently with a willful, poorly spoken, poorly mannered teen — it’s funny stuff, clever and witty and memorable as anything else the novel has to offer.
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