Lolita by Vladamir Nabokov
“I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita…”
I read this book for the first time my twentieth year, when I was much closer in age to doomed Dolores Haze than to its protagonist. I recognized it then as a masterpiece and a beautiful, powerful, troubled account. Upon rereading it this summer on an extended trip to China I was struck again by the power, the majesty, the terrible tragedy and love of this story. Lolita is a heartbreaking love story between a terrible Old World Grendel and crass, blossoming overripe adolescent America. This is a heartrending feat of sculpting with language.
From the opening paragraph to the closing sentences above, Nabokov’s showy florid prose is both electric and elegiac. This is the kind of writing that makes anyone (me at least) want to put down their pen in despair, with the certain knowledge that you will never write a single page as good as what he is able to deliver in the hundreds.
There isn’t much new to say about this tale that hasn’t been said before. I don’t think I’ll try, except to mention for my own notes that HH’s heartbreak over his inability to achieve any truly lasting immortality with Lolita (who is- at best- destined to grow beyond the transcendent moment of nypmhetism that so captures him) struck me as a reflection on the deep tragedy of any pair of lovers ever to live: None will ever know all the secret languages and moments and passions and conflicts and hopes of a couple but that couple themselves. The full-near-to-bursting emotions and secrets of love that (hopefully) almost everyone is lucky enough to experience at least once in life are doomed to pass, unremarked, unknown and forgotten by everyone else, to disappear, “like teardrops in rain.” Beyond embodying all of that love in offspring – children – then, the creation of inspired art, like this wonderful novel, is the only immortality that lovers may ever share.