A colleague at the office lent me her copy of Vladimir Nabokov's famous novel Lolita recently, after I admitted to never having finished it. Many years ago as a teenager I shelved books in the Austin Public Library. If memory serves, Lolita was one of many volumes that I glanced into as it returned from being checked out.

This time I read it all the way through, and my dominant reaction is befuddlement. What's the author's point? Madness and perversion, written in high literary style with dollops of French en route, are still mad and perverse. Yes, there are poetic passages. In Part Two, Chapter 1, for instance, a lyrical description during a long road trip glitters:

At night, tall trucks studded with colored lights, like dreadful giant Christmas trees, loomed in the darkness and thundered by the belated little sedan. And again next day a thinly populated sky, losing its blue to the heat, would melt overhead, and Lo would clamor for a drink, and her cheeks would hollow vigorously over the straw, and the car inside would be a furnace when we got in again, and the road shimmered ahead, with a remote car changing its shape mirage-like in the surface glare, and seeming to hang for a moment, old-fashionedly square and high, in the hot haze. And as we pushed westward, patches of what the garage-man called "sage brush" appeared, and then the mysterious outlines of table-like hills, and then red bluffs ink-blotted with junipers, and then a mountain range, dun grading into blue, and blue into dream, and the desert would meet us with a steady gale, dust, gray thorn bushes, and hideous bits of tissue paper mimicking pale flowers among the prickles of wind-tortured withered stalks all along the highway; in the middle of which there sometimes stood simple cows, immobilized in a position (tail left, white eyelashes right) cutting across all human rules of traffic.

Nice — but that scarcely redeems a disjointed plot of wishful-thinking fantasy, with convenient accident getting rid of inconvenient spouse, convenient "... it was she who seduced me" critical-moment twist, convenient murder-dream-revenge finale, convenient narrator-heart-attack framing device, etc. (For those who don't already know: Lolita tells of a middle-aged man's obsessive molestation of a child.) Characters, other than the first-person storyteller, are thinly sketched at best. Atmosphere is a stamp-album collection of rural and small-town scenery, motels and deserts, colleges and tennis courts, kerchiefs and downy-haired limbs.

Perhaps my search for sense is in vain, and the novel Lolita simply signifies: nothing? Nabokov dismisses any need for moral or meaning in his afterword essay. He offers only "æsthetic bliss" as his goal in writing. Maybe that's enough for him. In a book, I find it insufficient.

(cf. CloudAtlas (2005-04-07), NabokovOnBleakHouse (2007-06-26), ...) - ^z - 2011-01-21