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Lolita
Lolita
LOLITA, by Vladimir Nabokov
Part psychological study, detective story, confession, and sexual meditation -- and part wryly self-conscious play on all of these forms -- LOLITA is given as the jailhouse memoir of Humbert Humbert, who is awaiting trial for the murder of a playwright named Clare Quilty. Humbert, a wordsmith with an admittedly disarming and "fancy" way with words, takes the term "unreliable narrator" to an entirely new dimension as he relates his story: born in Paris and raised at his father's hotel on the Riviera, he experienced the first tragedy of his life not when his mother died (an event duly noted in a classic Nabokovian turn: "picnic, lightning"), but when he failed to consummate a romance with a his teenaged love. Humbert wonders if this failure is perhaps responsible for his thenceforth irrepressible proclivity for what he terms "nymphets" -- adolescent and nubile girls who possess, or so he claims, innately predatory sexual instincts.

As Humbert reaches middle age, he has separated from his wife and moved to New England, seeking a quiet place to write a book. There he encounters Lolita, the daughter of his landlady. What follows is a story of obsession, deception, abuse, and ultimately murder, as Humbert pursues his violent lust with a monomaniacal precision. The novel was highly controversial from the outset and remains so today, but its author, Vladimir Nabokov, resisted any moral interpretation to the work. And despite Humbert's clearly debased and delusional premise -- that it was Lolita who seduced him -- his narrative is told with an artful wit and lyricism that is eerily compelling. Humbert seduces the reader into a strange complicity with his exploits, evens as shards of Lolita's suffering scratch at the closed unity of his mind, which for all its agility lacks both curiosity as well as the basic human ability to imagine another's subjectivity.

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The American Novel