I had been procrastinating reading this book for a while, because I was honestly too scared to read it. I was prepared for it to be disturbing, but I was still caught off guard by just how much the book made me want to take a shower.
About the Book
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Genre: literary fiction, classics
My Rating: 4/5 stars
Synopsis (from Goodreads) (truncated):
“Awe and exhilaration—along with heartbreak and mordant wit—abound in Lolita, Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze.”
As many know, Lolita is written as a confession from the fictional pedophile “Humbert Humbert”, a pseudonym the main character uses to refer to himself throughout, while he is in jail. The book starts with HH announcing that he is a murderer, then explaining his predeliction for little girls (“nymphets” between the ages of 9 and 14, excuse me while I vomit) which he claims stems from a romance he had when he was around that age.
The main plot of the book begins when he starts boarding with the Haze family and marries Charlotte Haze because he is obsessed with her 12 year old daughter Dolores (which HH nicknames Lolita. But I’m going to call her by her real name throughout this review).
Everything is written from his perspective, with him fawning over Dolores’s “beauty” and talking about how much he wants to have sex with her (again, she’s 12). He views everything she does as alluring and sexualizes her every move, creating a dichotomy between his perverse view of Dolores and the reader’s perception of her behavior as that of a normal child.
There is nothing “sexy” about Dolores– everything that would point to her “seduction” of him appears that way only because it’s filtered through HH’s distorted lens. (This is why I do NOT understand how people say this book is pro-pedophilia or that HH is supposed to be sympathetic. That really seems like a misreading of the novel to me)
Anyway, HH initiates a “relationship” with Dolores, eventually kidnapping her and going around the country with her, posing as her father, but actually having a sexual relationship. In the beginning, it seemed like Dolores might have been thrilled by the attention being paid to her by an older man, but obviously, the situation is abusive and disgusting. Despite HH’s protestations and qualifiers, we know Dolores is a child, and is being horrifically abused. Even HH seems to realize this at times, though continually tries to justify his abhorrent behavior:
“We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night — every night, every night — the moment I feigned sleep.”
The book is also written in a very elaborate style. it’s not often I have to look up so many words while reading, and the language and wordplay was indeed delightful. It seemed like HH was trying to downplay the perversity of his abuse of Dolores by cloaking it in flowery language and eloquent professions of his “love” for her.
However, despite the writing, I definitely couldn’t re-read this. The trip into the mind of such a depraved person as Humbert Humbert, with endless descriptions, albeit not graphic, of his statutory rape of a child, is not a thing I would particularly like to revisit!
(But why the HELL is this classified as “Romance” on Goodreads?)
Have you read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov? What did you think of it? Feel free to let me know in the comments!
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2 comments on “Book Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov”
Classified as “Romance”?! Omg, that’s horrible and funny at the same time. Fine analysis as usual, Emily. I disagree a little on the issue of a sympathetic HH. HH manipulates not just Lolita but himself (into thinking this truly IS a romance story) and most importantly the reader (into seeing HH as a sympathetic character). Of course, both HH and the reader recognize the charade element – that this is abuse masking as romance – HH as an intermittent subtext and the reader as an omnipresent discomfort in their relation to the text. That the true manipulator is not HH but Nabokov, who uses language so eloquently to pull off these layers of manipulation, is what gives the book its weighty reputation. There are many stories/films of predatory monsters, and I agree that this book is definitely not pro-pedophilia, but I think it is that uncomfortable ambivalence about HH that distinguishes it from the others.
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