This is one sexy book. I hope a reader is not perverted by default for thinking so. For those not familiar with the plot, it is about a French expat who immigrates to America, falls in love with a twelve-year-old girl, marries her mother, murders her mother (without the daughter’s knowledge), then seduces the daughter, taking her on a two year, cross country road trip love affair. Told in any other way, this would be nothing but a typical murder-mystery or crime drama. But Nabokov not only tells the story from the villian’s point of view (and villians, of course, never think of themselves as evil). He goes further, and tells the story from the point of view of a gentlemanly, aristocratic, extraordinarily well-read and well educated anti-hero. From this vantage point, he is the romantic tragic hero, and his darling Lolita is not just an object of his desire, but a love of his life. While the reader conjures modern, ugly images of pedophilia, abduction, rape, and murder, the narrator spins the tale of a great, yet star-crossed love affair.
The prose is the most startlingly colorful and advanced I can ever remember reading. Nabokov wrote most of his novels in Russian, and this is his only English novel. In the afterward, he laments that his half-grasp upon the English language held the book back from fulfilling its potential. I am shellshocked at such a sentiment. Not only was I humbled by his vocabulary, frequent insertion of French phrases, and cultural references, I was also taken with the sheer literary quality of the prose. It is erotic without being vulgar. It is stylized without being inaccessible. And of course it is appalling without being alienating. It is not unlike Poe’s treatment of “A Tell-Tale Heart,” where the narrator knows he is a villian, but romanticizes his actions nonetheless. This book will shock, challenge, and believe it or not, entertain.