Long Live Lolita
Vladimir Nabokov's masterful, controversial novel turns 60.
by Anika Jhalani
(Sometimes, he left.
And then, she wrote, she played, with herself.)
And then I became a gorgeous sort of prisoner. Behind bars I sat, atop the oak barstools of Barcelona, folding one long limb over the other, flaunting the freshness of spindled persona. I drank. I sparkled my dewy eyes, garnering envy from patronesses, desire men. Not gentlemen. And I clutched in my hand what I used to capture them. A copy of Lolita. I’d bought the book for the cover more than for the story, but baby you can’t blame me, just doing what’s done to me, but this cover, decorated with a darling in cherry red sunglasses, a darling sucking a lollipop, batting her lashes, it was perfect, just what I needed as a companion, because in my pretty prison cell, I sat with a sparkling glass of neat gin, topped with a thin slice of lemon, and the novel sat in my paws perfectly, and that Lolita was sucking, and I was sipping…Do you think it was coincidence or construction?
Copying the copy, such a pretty prison.
Sweetheart really, isn’t reading such intimacy, none of the senses are provided, not sound, nor smell, nor see, but we get too close with the text, conjuring taste, arousal, and I used this secretive connect to concoct something that would attract…The attention I so wanted. Oohing and aahing at the Russian’s words, blushing at his opalescent murmurs, I played a game, interpreting the comma’d tremors, because I knew there were those outside the page. Those beyond the cream paper. Who might look? Who might see? Who might witness me read?
(And she remembered the name, Shaharazad)
Because even you could have been the one to venture past the summer terrace bar, and see lovely Lola on the cover of a book, and then your line of sigh would trail to Dolores’ reader, up to Lo’s admirer, a girl of serpentine eyes and venomous lips, slyly smiling, slowly sipping, sweetly seducing. Oh, but just reading. So….
Lolita came with me, yes, she came, we came together, spines bent, backs arched, having her atop the bars, fingering those pages to damn paper cuts, popped fingers in my mouth. As turned the paper, it helped with the friction, added to my fictions, I could grab more that way, yes, more of her flesh was in my fist, more of the boys were smitten when I did things like that, licking fingers to dew, touching the page to seduce, I did it for me, for her, but also for you, because the boys’ pleasure, baby, it became mine too.
Her and I, we could shift into anything the boys wanted. And we did. Because Lolita, it’s a book that can’t be claimed by language, won’t be categorized by the letters of script, such a devious title for a book. And therefore my hook. Because the audience tripped up, scratching heads, reading my read, a name’s a name on any tongue, so they wondered, did the stunner read in Portuguese, or did French claim the wisp of words, it could have been Turkish, with the Latin script of the book cover who knows, and they didn’t know, as the tentative Toms came up and asked, “what are you reading?” Sometimes they asked in Spanish, and yes, yes, I thought, for they’d be smitten by mistakes in my language, and if they inquired in Catalan, I could easily redirect them to speak in their national tongue, but either way they’d realize, hmm, so Lola was read by American eyes, green, lashed, American eyes. Those eyes, mine.
(She wrote, she wrote, for herself as well.
To remember her spell.)
You should have seen the men who’d come, foreigners, Brits, other Europeans, with hello hi hey, they were unsure of what to say, unsure of what I’d respond, and I let the wonderment go on, as I sucked on another lemon, and the men, those boys and men, they became self-conscious, adjusting their ties. I lifted the curtain of lash above my eyes, mascara pulled up and aside, to see their shuffles and struggles, the men’s murmured mumbles, as they discussed, cussed, pretended to read the menu of the café, memorizing all the dishes of the day, looking my way. Lolita and I sat, but never for long. I was a player, but not patient, what I desired was game in the moment, what I ached was spotlight for a sexy second, so she and I sucked, and sipped with supple lips, becoming what’s now wit, written.
Lolita carries such connotation.
(Because wasn’t Shaharazad, the woman.
Who took literature, story, and changed her reality.
By doing it for the King, she did it for herself, see.)
But when they came, Lolita and I, we got up and left. So much fun it was, the best, the best. Such a tease, an arrest, Lolita and I, our heartless escape, down the streets, gazes gripped us as we made our way, Dolores suspended at my waist, she was a darling, accompanying me through the maze…
(She wrote. For herself. She could be, anything, she wanted to be.
She wrote, to be the heroine…Shahahrazad, Dolly.)
Eighteen and pretty, that’s how old I was when I read Lolita. A book first published as erotica. And then later discovered, hailed, for being a masterpiece. Indeed, the title itself has become vocabulary for the young girl, one who is precocious, and pretty. I used it to my advantage, when traveling in Spain, used it to gain the glances of strangers, older men, sugar daddy’s who were looking to spend, and it’s all because of what Nabokov did, how he created a work of instant recognition.
Eighteen and I read the book in bars to catch attention. And it’s a cruel book because, then, I didn’t quite understand the connotation. I used to think Humbert was hilarious, self-conscious, and that it would be fun to play with him, when really there were spidery problems. He hides them, Nabokov, with this prose. As if Lolita somehow chose. Really, though, it’s easy to know.
(Imprisoned, in my own sentence, I wrote.)
Lolita turns 60 this year, the age of some of the men I met, mustached men who bought me martinis to sip. The strange thing is I do credit Humbert Humbert for at least a portion of my risk. I’ve read the book seven times over and know a good amount of its tricks. Vladimir Nabokov’s anagram of Vivian Darkbloom in the introduction, Humbert calling Lolita his ultraviolet darling, “violet” meaning “raped” in French, the language that Humbert teaches. Folded into the prose is, of course, Nabokov’s genius. But it was Humbert and my own crush on his wits, his insecurity, even his description of a kiss, which chased me towards those men, for my own little adventure, for my own conquest.
But I don’t think I quite knew what I would lose in the process.
Happy birthday Lolita, let’s celebrate. Come with me to a bar somewhere in Barcelona.
I’ll order a frosting adorned cupcake, hold a copy of you in one hand while I dig my fingernail into the cake’s flesh, pop the dessert into my lipstick lips, and suck a bit, to get all the frosting licked clean. Turning your pages, I’ll be reading, to see if someone witnesses it. Let’s be nostalgic for a time when I read your words and it changed my world, for how I became a Lolita on my own.
How I became another gorgeous little prisoner.
Originally published 12/09/15