Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov, Jeremy Irons I am going to tell you what I wish I had been told before reading this book. This is a memoir told from the first person point of view. I guess we all know that this book is about a pedophile, about incest. Yes it is, but it is extremely well written. And for this reason, due to this author’s talent, it is often very funny and thought provoking. It is not just about incest. It is also about love and teenage kids and anger and craziness too. Humbert writes this memoir to figure out who he is and what has happened. It is a search for truth. He admits his own faults and nastiness. It was to be published not only after his own death, but that of Lolita’s too. For clarification: Lolita, Lola, Dolores or Dolores-on-the-dotted-line: they are all the same person. I love that “name”: Dolores-on-the-dotted-line! It is used only once. What does it mean to you?

This is NOT a book of eroticism. The writing is at its most sensual when he describes his feelings of love. I thought these words were beautiful. Humbert is twenty-four years older than Lolita, his stepdaughter. She is twelve when they first meet. This is not a book that will make you feel uncomfortable from sexually explicit descriptions.

Humor is so varied. Here is one example of the kind you will find in this book. Humbert is trying to learn the current whereabouts of a person the dentist, Dr. Quilty, knows. So he inquires about getting a complete set of dentures! He has absolutely no intention of really doing this. He offhandedly also asks where the dentist’s nephew is:

Dr. Quilty perched on the corner of his desk, one foot dreamily and seductively rocking, as he launched on a glorious long range plan. He would first provide me with provisional plates, until the gums settled. Then he would make me a permanent set. He would like to have a look at that mouth of mine. He wore perforated pied shoes. …. It was a noble dream. His foot rocked. His gaze was inspired. It would cost me around six hundred. He suggested he take measurements right away and make the first set before starting operations. My mouth to him was a splendid cave full of priceless treasures. But I denied him entrance.

“No,” I said. “On second thoughts I shall have it all done by Dr. Mulnar. His price is higher, but he, of course, is a much better doctor than you.”

I do not know if any of my readers will have a chance to say that. It is a delicious dream feeling.

I wrote this down from what I heard, so the punctuation and the name spellings could be a bit different. It is in the fifth chapter of five in part two of the audiobook.

There is subdued humor throughout the writing. He refers to moths as “derelict snowflakes”. A bit further on he is driving:

I rolled back to town, in that old faithful car of mine, that was serenely, almost cheerfully, working for me.

And then, later, after something happens which I must hop over to avoid giving spoilers, he is back in his car driving again:

The road now stretched across open country, and it occurred to me, not by way of protest, not as a symbol or anything like that, but merely as a novel experience, that since I had disregarded all laws of humanity, I might as well disregard the rules of traffic. So I crossed to the left side of the highway and checked the feeling, and the feeling was good. It was a pleasant dyafernal melting with elements of defused tactility always enhanced by the thought that nothing could be nearer to the elimination of basic physical laws than deliberately driving on the wrong side of the road. In a way it was a very spiritual itch. Gently, dreamily, not exceeding twenty miles an hour, I drove on that queer mirror side. Traffic was light. Cars that now and then passed me on the side I had abandoned to them honked at me brutally. Cars coming toward me wobbled, swerved and cried out in fear. Presently I found myself approaching populated places. Passing through a red light was like a sip of forbidden burgundy when I was a child.

No, the above isn’t necessarily humorous, but it shows Nabokov’s style of writing. In the above you glimpse the craziness of Humbert. Interestingly enough, Humbert looks at himself critically and analytically. You understand what he does since you see the events through his eyes and through his feelings and emotions. Sometimes he behaves insanely; you feel his anger and craziness too. You are under his skin. You almost forget to criticize. And by the way, he isn’t always the “bad guy”, the one in the wrong. He is in fact just another human being. OK, a human being with abnormal, sick tendencies, but don’t jump to conclusions. He in fact loves Lola. Although he is mentally ill, his thoughts will get you thinking too.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Jeremy Irons. In this format the book is both well written and magnificently narrated. I believe that Iron’s narration makes it easier to understand and enjoy the humor hidden in the author’s words. It is amazing when Lolita speaks; Iron’s intonation of a teenage girl is sublime.


BEFORE READING: I am listening to this because the narrator, Jeremy Irons, may draw me from the subject matter to the writing, or so I have read.

Then I will continue with Vera:, a biography about Nabokov's wife, written by Stacy Schiff.