Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Pages: Hardback 327
Publisher: Campbell Publishing Ltd.
Opening Lines: "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul."
"When it was published in 1955, Lolita immediately became a cause of célèbre because of the freedom and sophistication with which it handled the unusual erotic predilections of its protagonist. But Vladimir Nabokov's wise, ironic, elegant masterpiece owes its stature as one of the twentieth century's novels of record not to the controversy its material aroused but to its author's use of that material to tell a love story almost shocking in its beauty and tenderness.
"Awe and exhilaration—along with heartbreaking and mordant wit—abound in this account of the aging Humbert Humbert's obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America, but most of all, it is a meditation on love—love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation."
~ Jacket copy
Thoughts: At some point, my father told me that his mother would not allow him to read Lolita. I cannot remember if it was before or after I chanced upon the Jeremy Irons rendition of the film. Either way, that started my love affair of Lolita. Something that could grab my father's attention, bring my grandmother's disapproval, and capture Jeremy Irons had to be worthwhile. However, for some reason or the other, I never got around to reading the book. A few weeks ago, after reading an article on my phone, Lolita was brought back to my mind. Spending a few minutes on my local library's website, I was happy to learn that they had a copy of the book! And thus began my adventure with Lolita and the lovelorn Humbert Humbert.
Lolita is a hard book to discuss. The subject matter alone is enough to cause one to curl their toes in disgust. The idea of a 37 year-old man falling in love with a 12 year-old girl is rather startling. More so was his devious way of getting close to the young girl, becoming her stepfather, and taking her on a cross country road trip after her mother died. However, for all of the fault people can and will find with this book, I found myself enjoying it. Vladimir has a way with words. The prose in this book is simply remarkable. Even though, at some level, I wanted to despise Humbert, I found myself feeling somewhat sorry for him at the end. To me, that is the mark of a master storyteller.
Reading a lot of reviews, people are torn between the true villain in the story. Some believe that Humbert was just Lolita's victim and not at fault for his actions. While some view him as the ultimate sexual predator. While I read this book, I kept both view points in mind, and I think both parties fall short. Even though his actions were deplorable, I place a lot of the blame with Lolita's mother, Charlotte. I am not sure where it started, but, by the time Humbert enters the picture, Charlotte seems to be fostering severe feelings of hate for her daughter. She is constantly picking on Lo, she fills out surveys to describe the girl as horrid, she makes of a point of calling Lo "plain," and so on. When it is obvious that something might be brewing between Humbert and Lo, she quickly sends the girl away to summer camp because she does not want competition for the affections of a handsome European. Further, she seeks to send Lo away to a boarding school until she graduates. Even Humbert himself remarks on these actions towards the girl. When Charlotte discovers incriminating evidence in Humbert's desk, she still seeks to blame the child.
Coming from a family life where she lost her father at a young age and living with a mother who hates her, it is easy to see why Lo grabs onto Humbert. He is a dashingly good looking European male. He seems charming and gives her attention. He does not scold her for normal childlike behavior. It makes sense to me that she would flirt with him and so forth. However, at some level, I think she knew full well what game she was playing. That being said, at 12 years-old, she had not way to understand the ramifications of the game. And, as the story progresses, I was left to wonder whether the child was horribly damaged by other past occurrences—things that would make a young girl think the only way to get attention from a male was through sex.
None of this is to say that Humbert was in the right. From the onset of the book, he makes it clear that he knew he was in the wrong. Knowing and continuing to act on something is disgusting! Further, his constant justifications disturbed me. Just because a love affair with a 12 year-old was common in the Middle Ages doesn't mean it is acceptable now. (Also, the comment about Sade's Justine made my skin crawl.) At many points during the book, I found myself wishing that Lo would tell one of her friends or someone would find out. It was not fair to rob Lo of a childhood, because Humbert was in love with her. That being said, I found myself feeling somewhat sorry for Hum at the end of the book.
The beginning and ending of this book will stay with me. I am not sure how to describe the ending without giving anything away. Let's just say, when all was said and done, in his own way, Hum truly loved his Lolita.
I truly loved this book. It is hard to read and not for the faint of heart. I would not suggest this book to most people; however, if you can get by the subject matter, I think it is well worth the read.
Current Pages: 13,343