It speaks of the power of packaging that in all these years of browsing through bookshelves, I have come across, more than once, a copy of Vladimir Nabokov’s famous book, but was never as drawn to it as I was yesterday, when I picked one up for the first time: A Vintage Publishing version, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the book’s first release, it had the most seductive typography, with Lolita written in a beautiful curcive hand on a flawless white banner, the ’50th Anniversary Edition’ highlighed in a gold leaf banner, all of it foregrounding an arresting close up of only a part of a young woman’s lips. The image itself, it’s composition, theme and colours spoke to me: to various me’s, in various languages.
The least I could do in appreciation of all this artistry was to leaf through the opening pages, but I was hugely repulsed by the original typography on the inside page which said ‘Lolita’ in bold, blotty letters. I turned immediately back to the cover. Reassured, I read the blurb and finally the price literally teased the decision away from me.
The book came home wih me, forced me to read the foreword and opening chapters, after which, I read on & on. Only my utter exaustion from a whole day of running around Bombay in the heat allowed me to overcome the hypnotism and get some sleep.
Yes, the book has a life of it’s own. It does not contain prose but is actually a Penseive. I was sucked in, headlong. My heart would race, my fingers trace the lines, my eyes would flit back to re-read passages, my lips would go dry. But it paces itself. It is not a racy thriller. Only that the spaces where it allows you to catch your breath are immediately followed by those which take all of it away; & not with a little force. The images are more suffused with colour, scent, form and the minutae of life than anything I have ever experienced, eve those of my dreams and memories.
Events & characters, whether fictional or real, may be judged by the measures of society. Humbert may be flawed but Lolita the book is…indescribable.
This is not a book which believes in telling you that being in love or being obsessed is like this or like that. It just becomes another sensory organ, letting sensation after sensation, scent after scent, image after image, agony after agony rip through you.
And that is why it was banned so ferociously. Just another chronicle would probably not have been feared as much.