Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov


Synopsis: Humbert Humbert - scholar, aesthete and romantic - has fallen completely and utterly in love with Lolita Haze, his landlady's gum-snapping, silky skinned twelve-year-old daughter. Reluctantly agreeing to marry Mrs. Haze just to be close to Lolita, Humbert suffers greatly in the pursuit of romance; but when Lo herself starts looking for attention elsewhere, he will carry her off on a desperate cross-country misadventure, all in the name of Love. Hilarious, flamboyant, heart-breaking and full of ingenious word play, Lolita is an immaculate, unforgettable masterpiece of obsession, delusion and lust.

Date Published: 1955
Published By: Olympia Press
Number of Pages: 331
Rating: 4/5

Lolita is a beautifully written, compelling story - and also one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. Reading from the point of view of a pedophile is bound to be unsettling but what's even more disturbing is that, after awhile, I actually found myself feeling kind of sorry for the guy.

Let's be clear - Humbert Humbert is a sexist, misogynistic, predatory, egotistical, self-loathing asshole - even if he wasn't a pedophile, he'd still be an asshole. What ultimately makes him sympathetic is just seeing how pathetic his lust for Lolita makes him. It drives him to the point of near insanity. Watching Humbert fall apart is both heart-breakingly sad and incredibly satisfying. 

I love Lolita's character and how much she differs from Humbert's initial idealistic fantasy - far from being an innocent 'nymphet' Lolita is at times brash, rude, crude, whiny, temperamental, introspective and always honest. In short, she's a complex young girl. I noticed while reading that Humbert becomes increasingly annoyed with Lolita whenever she deviates from his sexual fantasy of a young, innocent girl. Humbert refuses to see any woman as a human being, describing various older women as 'ugly,' 'sluttish,' or simply calling them whores. The only value any woman has, in Humbert's view, is how 'nymph-like' she is. Thankfully, Lolita refuses to play the part of the damaged victim, survives Humbert's abuses and eventually escapes.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of Lolita (apart from the taboo subject matter) is the delightful word play throughout. It's almost like an even creepier version of Alice in Wonderland. Humbert's descriptions of Lolita are particularly captivating and the reader almost feels complicit in Humbert's mad obsession.

But maybe that's the point of Lolita. Maybe it's endured for so long because it is so morally reprehensible and outrageous and titillating and just so wrong - but that's why we love it. We're drawn to things that outwardly offend us but secretly thrill us. When reading Lolita I was at times disgusted - but also fascinated. When I got to a particularly squeamish part, I didn't put the book down - I kept reading.

Lolita is definitely not for everyone - there's a reason it's been challenged and banned throughout its publication history. I encourage mature readers to give it a try - it may not be an easy read, but it is an important one. 

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