Monday, April 11, 2011

Week 13: Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

This might be the most fucked-up book I have ever read. I suspect that the entire time that I was reading, my face was scrunched up in a painful grimace. Even now as I type, my face is making the expression that one might take on when stumbling across open-heart surgery on the Discovery Channel. Most people know the premise of this classic story: Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged man, falls in love with Dolores “Lolita” Haze, a twelve-year-old girl. What is stuck in my mind is a spoof cover of Lolita that appears on the website Better Book Titles – the spoof is entitled “Likable Rapists”.  It’s perfect, because Humbert is truly a likable character. He’s self-effacingly hilarious, and saturates the book with black comedy. He has a long-standing predilection towards pre-pubescent girls, or “nymphets”, as he likes to call them. The reader gets the sense that he genuinely loves Lolita, although to classify his emotions towards her as love is another can of worms. The story follows Humbert and Lolita’s relationship as they begin as housemates. Not long after, Humbert is marrying Lolita’s mother in order to have unrestrained access to the girl. When Lolita’s mother dies suddenly, Humbert is left in full control of her. You can imagine where this leads. It becomes apparent that Lolita is more…“advanced”, shall we say, than most girls her age, but is still a child. Humbert soon takes Lolita on a road trip across the country and their relationship further deteriorates. The book is entertaining and beautifully written, but difficult to read at times simply due to the subject matter. It’s not so much the sex (all of the erotic moments are presented gently and elegantly) that is so jarring. It’s the intersection of Lolita’s childlike nature with her very adult relationship with Humbert. For example, Lolita has sex with Humbert but also runs into his room at night crying because she misses her deceased mother. Humbert manipulates her further by threatening to send her to an orphanage if she does not remain compliant. Their journey inevitably comes to a sad end, and we witness Humbert’s unraveling. Not more than halfway through the book I started wishing for it to end. Then I realized what a feat it is for a book to conjure up such visceral emotions and I realized I was selling the book short. With that in mind, I eventually came to really enjoy this great tale.

1 comment:

  1. This is my favorite book of all time. The language knocks me off my feet and the confusion he makes you feel about how to feel about old Humbert is really magnificent.