Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.”
This is one of the most sickening, disturbing, and unsettling novels ever written.
Lolita is one of Vladimir Nabokov’s best-known works and by far his most disturbing. It took five years to write and a further two years before any publisher would accept it. It immediately sold out and the public both hated and loved it. One year later, an American school banned the novel for the first time.
The book has been banned in five different countries and challenged in dozens more. It’s been labelled as obscene, inappropriate and trash. Its main themes include paedophilia, sexual abuse and incest. As a result, it has become one of the most controversial novels of the twentieth century.
The main character, who calls himself Humbert Humbert, falls hopelessly in love with a young girl as a result of his childhood sweetheart dying. He becomes obsessed with his landlady’s 12-year-old daughter, and eventually, the obsession turns dangerous. Humbert forces his way into their family and treasures every interaction he has with the young girl. It soon isn’t enough. With the opportunity arises, Humbert snatches his ‘Lolita’ and so begins a year-long road trip across the United States of America. There are scenes of affection and comfort, incest and depravity, and the entire book is one horrifying chapter after another.
Lolita is the very definition of a ‘love it or hate it’ novel and has both disturbed and intrigued readers for decades.
- The novel is full of puns. It’s one of the biggest highlights of the story. Everything from Herbert’s initials sounding like “ha ha” in German, to the connotations of Dolly’s last name “Haze”. Even minor characters such as “short-haired Miss Lester and fadedly feminine Miss Fabian” have a hidden level of humour, given that their surnames combine to form ‘lesbian’. This unique form of banter is shown throughout the novel.
- As horrifying as the subject matter is, the actual writing is brilliant. It has layer upon layer of hidden meanings and messages. Nabokov is able to write the mind of a paedophile accurately and shows the reader what the world looks like through those eyes.
- It places the reader in the unique position of jury. The novel is written as an account of events from Humbert’s point of view, yet no verdict is made. It’s up to the reader to decide if this was an unfortunate star crossed love affair, or something far far darker. It’s a situation that not many novels are able to create, and it only adds to the suspension of the book.
- Humbert is an unreliable narrator due to his condition. A liar and arguably suffering from a range of mental illnesses, we see the story from his perspective. As a result, the relationship between him and 12-year-old Lolita can only be seen through a rose-tinted lens. His actions appear justified as he’s the one telling us what he did, and there are more than a few events where the truth is quite selective.
- The creepy relationship between a middle-aged man and a teenage girl speaks for itself. Not only is it immoral; it’s also illegal. Humbert maintains the belief that she supposedly seduced him, but the fact of the matter is, Lolita is still a child and he still took advantage.
- There is no ‘plot’ outside of their relationship, which isn’t exactly a comforting thing to read about. Some sections of the novel seem to drag on forever as Humbert spends hours considering the physical attractiveness of a 12-year old. The book lacks depth and detail, and most characters are bland and repetitive. It’s most definitely not an easy read.
Overall, I’d give Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita a two out of five. While beautifully written, it is, in the end, a story about rape and incest, and that’s not something enjoyable to read about.
I’d recommend this novel for lovers of psychological suspense, but not for many others. If you wish to tackle the book then, by all means, go right ahead, but if anything in this review made you queasy, stay well away.
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