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Another attempt to tackle some serious fiction, a little vegetable-eating amidst the literary fast-food that makes up my usual diet. Lolita (as Wikipedia will tell you) is

… on Time's list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. It is fourth on the Modern Library's 1998 list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th century. It was also included as one of The 100 Best Books of All Time.

So that's an impressive pedigree, but Pun Salad readers come here for the straight scoop. "Hey, Paul, how was it, really?"

You've probably heard: the novel deals with an off-putting subject. It is set mostly in America of the late 40s and early 50s. The narrator, a European immigrant named "Humbert Humbert", is a nasty sort, with lustful urges for "nymphets", young girls. Fate brings him to a small New England town where he lodges with, and eventually marries, a crass dame named Charlotte Haze. Unfortunately, he's actually smitten with Dolores, Charlotte's 11-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, who Humbert takes to calling Lolita.

Not to spoil things, but Lolita turns out to be more than Humbert bargained for. Young does not equate to innocent, even in the America of 70 years ago. Things turn out badly for everyone involved.

Nabokov's prose is full of wordplay, allusion, foreshadowing, symbolism, and a bunch of other words you probably heard about in literature class. Fortunately, I got, from the Library Near Here, the "annotated" version put together by the late Alfred Appel, a lifelong Nabokov scholar. I can't see how I would have made the slightest bit of sense out of the book otherwise, although it takes some of the surprise out of the ending. Nabokov is the kind of author who expects you to connect names and words mentioned briefly, amongst continual pyrotechnic verbiage, when they show up again hundreds of pages later. Unless you're a would-be literary detective, willing to ferret out every clue, tackling this book unassisted would be like setting out into the Himalayas without your Sherpa.

Appel also, bless him, translates the numerous French phrases that Humbert and other characters continually drop, resolves the literary allusions, points out each and every obscure reference to the mysterious Clare Quilty.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 7:20 AM EDT