Saturday, January 30, 2010

Book Review: Lolita

The Annotated Lolita: Revised and Updated The Annotated Lolita: Revised and Updated by Vladimir Nabokov

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
She was Lo, plain Lo without the annotations--

I came across the unannotated version of Lolita in summer 2004 when I was a raging philosophy maniac whose obsession was everything existentialism and thinking about The Meaning of Life - in general, I wasn't a very happy person to say the least.

Toward the end of a strenuous and almost cruel summer reading syllabus I had imposed on myself (Soren and Friedrich I could handle, but Martin and J.P. gave me the existential headache), came this brilliant gem of fiction, an oasis in the desert of angst and bad faith, a breather for my nothingness of a mind that craved being-not-in-the-world. Thanks to Vivian Darkbloom, I achieved veritable transcendence of my ego.

Onto my impressions of the novel. I remember the first part being tantalizingly erotic and second part average. So engrossed was I in poor Humbert Humbert's fantasies and seduction that, in a manner of speaking I had to repeatedly resort to the good old manuo-frictional means of extinguishing the fire of my loins. The second part, however, disappointed me and when I began my second fill of Lolita, I remembered nothing about the second part, save the scene where Humbert Humbert makes an advance at Dolores when she's studying and she says, "Oh not again."

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if you have had your fill of Lolita once without the benefit of the annotations, you can easily understand my plight when I decided to go through it again, especially when one is loath to have recourse to the all too conventional means of extinguishing the aforementioned fire. But my apprehensions came to naught.

The annotations, I must confess, are tremendously helpful. I did not recognize to what magnitude I missed the allusions, echoes, jokes, and delightful word plays our Hum engages in. It is staggering how much he is able to weave into the narrative. Frankly, I missed, without exaggeration, 100% of it. I was, as the diligent annotator notes in his recondite and illuminating 64-page introduction, Nabokov's ideal reader-puppet.

Not so, this time. Thanks to the annotations and two years of reading hard literature plus two years of French, I was able to see the cracks and holes in Lolita and enjoy it an artistic artifice that it is. Strangely, I experienced no tumescence - not one bit - and enjoyed it on a totally different aesthetic level.

In short, although the prolix and detailed annotations may have taken away from the reading experience, I still enjoyed Lolita very much. There are slow parts, however, I had a hard time getting through. For example, the first 20 pages of Part Deux where H.H. and Dolly travel across les etats unis boasts more than enough expositions to drive you to the edge of despair and tantrum.

My favorite scenes are, in order: 1)the last scene with Humbert and Quilty; 2) the Enchanted Hunters hotel scene; and 3) the interviews with the Beardsley School headmistress. Like any work of literature, there are more than its fair share of slow parts whose necessity is in big question at least from the humble reader's perspective.

Insofar as the novel manages to both engage on the gut emotional level (especially the first time without the annotations) and intellectual, literary, and artistic level, Lolita remains, and will remain, one of my absolute favorites.

The four stars for the second level of reading. Overall, I give it 5 stars.

Another must read.

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