Humbert is unrepentant and neither is Nabokov’s prose. On full show are the writer’s love of and skill with striking phrases, puns, literary allusions and transformations that ooze over every line. It is alarming to have such vile subject matter in such incredible prose, and for many this is a stumbling block. It is a peculiarity that erotic elements in literature are often not viewed beyond the surface. It is accepted that Moby Dick is about more than just whaling, or that The Great Gatsby is about more than wild parties and excess in the Jazz Age. But with Lolita the obvious perversion is all some see, with Nabokov’s rich style viewed as an attempt at masquerading a “dirty little book”.
Lolita is best described as the twisted comedy of Humbert, a pompous, vile, self-absorbed unreliable narrator. He has his charms, chief among them his verbose wit, and many more flaws, primarily his misuse of his eloquence. But his is a hilarious, ironic tale of the collision of memory and desire in the mind of a vain wretch.