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'The look of Lolita', Eye 43, Spring 2002
'The function of a book jacket is to catch the potential reader's attention – usually in an instant, and amid the noise of its neighbours. This is often achieved by abbreviating the book's contents to a single image which hopefully speaks on a greater scale about the book. But what happens when these criteria are forced on a book which resists all abbreviation?

In his annotated version of the novel, Alfred Appel Jr identifies the allusions Lolita makes on 'literary, historical, mythological, Biblical, anatomical, zoological, botanical, and geographical' levels, as well as 'cross-references to identical or related allusions in other Nabokov works'. Then there are the puzzles and traps which continually hint at their creator's presence, and deliberately upset the reader's desire to be told a believable story. While in some places the words function as they would in a conventional story – we look through them into the narrative – more often the language turns opaque, and we realise that the real substance of the prose lies in the games which are being played on its surface. As Appel writes, 'There are thus at least two "plots" in all of Nabokov's fiction: the characters in the book, and the consciousness of the creator above it – the "real plot" which is visible in the "gaps" and "holes" in the narrative.' The book depends upon at least a second reading for its effect, and we begin to understand exactly why 'I am very much against my books being judged by mere descriptions of their contents.'

Lolita was rejected on moral or legal grounds by four American publishers during 1954, and upon publication by the pornographically-inclined Olympia Press in France the following year entered into a farce of bannings (not all of which were constitutional) and unbannings, along with controversy in England and Italy. Though long-acknowledged as a classic of modern literature, the novel's initial troubles still form an important part of its phenomenon, and continue to influence both its marketing and design.'

 

 

 

 

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