Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Reading Lolita

I'm not going to write about Lolita, the novel. I'm going to write about the experience of reading Lolita.

Every page is a celebration. Yet, every paragraph is a hellish ethical ride. The prose is sublime, yet to acknowledge it feels like connivance in the narrator's outrages. In the first part of the book, when the narrator Humbert's thoughts are just that, it was easy to humour him. After all, you can't be too intolerant towards mere thoughtcrime. I can remember all the times in my life when I've had to conquer the thoughts that I couldn't help have. As the dude said, "If my thoughtdreams could be seen, they'd probably put my head in a guillotine". As long as the narrator only describes his thoughts I was an unqualified admirer of the grand prose that does so much justice to the madness of love, all the while making a grudging allowance for the depravity. In the middle of the book it got terribly confrontational. I couldn't laugh freely at the delightful humor. I couldn't laud the expression. I couldn't be unabashed about anything I liked about the narrative. Every bit of appreciation made me wonder if I was a partner in crime.

The place where I do most of my reading is in my office shuttle. Normally, I look forward to people peeping into my book and starting a conversation about it. While I was reading Lolita, however, I often curled the pages so that my neighbour had no chance of reading any full sentence. What if they thought I approved? What if they've not heard that Lolita is a classic? There was even a time when I folded the book in a hurry and put it in my bag because I suspected that the guy sitting next to me was reading it. There never is a boring moment while reading the book. The irony and the candor spawned off so much introspection around morals, censorship, love and the whole experience of being human. It was one of the most stimulating books I've read... And now I'm nervous that the reader will misconstrue the meaning of that last sentence. Ah well! That sums up the ethical tiptoeing that Lolita forces you to do!
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