There's a peculiar pleasure in re-reading classics you know and love. In a good novel your familiarity with the material doesn't impair your enjoyment of the work, but rather opens up new approaches for interpretation and appreciation. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, is a literary puzzle that only gives away its closely guarded secrets to those that read it again and again.
What makes Lolita so special is that it continues to amaze that such an elegant and stylized novel could be written about such gruesome subject matter. I hesitate to describe what the novel is "about" as it is open to so many different interpretations. But this story, framed as a memoir written by the imprisoned main character, about Humbert Humbert's unhealthy obsession and 'relationship' with his stepdaughter, is an exercise in stylistic excellence. Especially considering that Russian is Nabokov's native language, not English. In an obituary, published in the NY Times after Nabokov's death in 1977, Alden Whitman writes:
"Lolita," like most Nabokov stories, can be read on several levels: as a narrative, as an exercise in logodaedaly, as a search for meaning and truth, as a tantalizing flight of imagination, as an exploration of a dreamlike confusion of time and place, and as an elaborative spoof. "He is not the kind of novelist whom you sit down to with a Scotch or an apple," Anthony Burgess, the British critic, declared.
While I agree with Whitman's assessment of Lolita as an intricate multi layered achievement, I have to disagree with Burgess. While appreciation of the novel's complex symbolism and deeper meanings make it a unique experience, reading the book never feels like work. Throughout it remains intimately readable, a feat that a work like Ulysses, for example, doesn't achieve. It is filled to the brim with so many references and literary inventions that it never ceases to amaze and delight. But even if you miss 70% of those references it is still a worthwhile read.