Author: Vladimir Nabokov

Publisher: Olympia Press

Year: 1955

“A man with an unfulfilled childhood romance whose obsession with a young girl leads to a trip on the wheels of tragedy.”

 

It took me a while to finally get a copy of Lolita because I was afraid of what I’d find in it. I had only heard a few comments about the read and they weren’t exactly pretty. When I read about the difficulty of defining aesthetics in art, an example was given about the difficulty in forming a definition when (im)morality is thrown in – can an art form still be defined as aesthetic if it challenges our morals? An example of such was Lolita and I thought maybe I didn’t really want to be that person who’s known to enjoy such books. Then I said to myself, ‘What the heck? Let me read it and I’ll judge it for myself.’ I read it in a less than a week and that, my dear friends, I only do when a book has me by the sack.

Humbert meets his first love, Annabel while they’re still young and unfortunately she dies from typhus, leaving him in a spell of an ‘unfinished childhood romance.’ The English teacher has a good career but also spends some time in a mental institution. He has an obsession with young girls; nymphets, who remind him of Annabel. He marries an adult woman but the marriage fails and he moves to the US. He views a room in a widow’s house, Charlotte Haze, out of politeness and does not plan to stay there until he sees the twelve-year-old daughter, Dolores – his Lolita. Humbert falls in love with the child and records these feelings in his diary, including his hate for Charlotte. The widow confesses her love for him in a letter and gives him two choices; to continue living in the house if he feels the same way or move out if he doesn’t. To be close to his nymphet he marries Charlotte. Humbert contemplates killing her just to be with Lolita but soon a discovery of his diary by Charlotte leads to the events of her death in an accident.

Humbert takes the child on a journey far from home and around the country. At the first motel they stay in he tells the child of her mother’s death. Humbert claims to be seduced by the child and that is when the sexual activities between the child and the paedophilic step-father begins. He gets a job at Beardsley and she enrols in a girl’s school. His obsession is so intense that he dictates everything about her life so as to keep her all to himself, depriving Lolita of a normal childhood. They go off on the road again when he suspects that she’s being unfaithful and on their trip there seems to be someone following them. Lolita falls sick and ends up in hospital, but after her stay there Humbert finds that she has checked out with an uncle. He searches for her for two years and at seventeen she finally writes to him sharing her state of life and asks for money. Humbert traces her place and after the visit he goes on to find the man who had taken his Lolita from him. When he finds the man, nothing stops him from taking drastic measures for revenge.

 

If the story was not narrated with this much humour, the marrow of this story would have just appeared more disturbing than it actually is. Lolita is the kind of read that joins the circle of books that without even being read, is already exposed to criticism and questions of morality. However, when you do read it you find that the sadness and shock are carried well through by the strength of the Nabokov’s use of words in an exquisitely artistic manner. He plays well with language; the use of intimation to hint at certain shocking and disgusting details. The rape, paedophilia, incest, murder and pornography are not always explicitly mentioned, rather he uses literary shadowing to refer to them in a way that makes the reader appreciate his method and at the same time completely get what he is on about.

The story itself is an unpleasant and unlikable topic but the art is one to be appreciated. What could be a bit of a miss is that the narration comes from Humbert and everything is from his perspective. It is more about his passion for the child and for every foul move he makes it’s almost as if he wants us to understand where he’s coming from, which is inexcusable for the kind of crime he commits. We also don’t get to know Lolita that well, all we know is the way that Humbert sees her – through the eyes of a man with a twisted mind. We don’t get to actually get a picture of how she feels about the whole arrangement or hear her voice. All we get is what Humbert tells us, which is biased and that’s all we have to go with.

Overall it’s an excellent piece of literary art that draws us to a world of moral corruption that is not alien to real societies where monstrous men like Humbert do exist. It also manages to demonstrate the imprisonment of a child’s mind or victim by painting a dead-end picture where it appears that the only road they can take is the one with their predator.

I would recommend this book to readers with a sense of humour and a willingness to read the book without bringing any preconceived ideas to the table, and actually give the pages a chance to turn. There may be parts while reading where you might think, “Why in hell’s a**e am I reading this?” but you may not be able to resist carrying on.