Sunday, 3 October 2010
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta.'
From the very first line the narrator of Lolita, Humbert drags the reader into his world. Due to the subject matter of this book I was initially unsure how to begin reading this. I wondered if the subject of Paedophilia would be taken as seriously in Lolita as it is today. I wondered if Nabokov was going to manipulate the reader into sympathising with a Paedophile or if the relationship between a Paedophile and a 12 year old girl was going to somehow be presented as a legitimate love story. More puzzlingly I wondered how on earth people how had read this could describe it as a page turner given the disturbing subject matter.
So it was with curiosity and interpretation that I began to read Lolita and as soon as I did I couldn’t put it down and I began to indeed find it a ‘page turner’.
A simple review of Lolita is not going to give the book justice in anyway and will not demonstrate the beauty of the writing, the clever wordplay or that at points the reader has to look beyond parts of the narrative which are sometimes an illusion and try to see what the actual words are telling you. Instead of a review in my normal style, this will just be an outline of my thoughts from the book.
Lolita has an unreliable narrator, a VERY unreliable narrator. Just one look at the top passage demonstrates this, the way Humbert is talking there anyone would imagine that the object of his affection is some long limbed goddess. But of course Lolita is not. If you or I saw Lolita walking down the street all we would see is a normal looking 12 year old girl, but as the book is told through Humbert’s eyes so the reader sees Lolita as seen by him. While Humbert (because of how his Paedophile mind works) might perceive that Lolita is often a willing participant in their relationship and will sometimes narrate the story this way, the reader is left with clues as to how Lolita really feels or how certain scenarios really did play out. Not everything is quite as it seems and what you are reading did not necessarily happen in quite the way you are being told.
Lolita is a difficult character to pinpoint as she is only seen through Humbert’s eyes, but at various points in the narrative I felt her voice came through very strongly. When her voice does come through I saw a very unhappy girl with no where else to go. Humbert does go into detail on how he has to manipulate, lie and threaten Lolita to get her to stay with him on the crazy road trip they embark on; I was not given the impression at any point that Lolita was a willing participant in all of this.
'At the hotel we had separate rooms, but in the middle of the night she came sobbing into mine, and we made it up very gently. You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go.'
There are no ‘sex scenes’ but the narrative surrounding these events and the odd comment from both Humbert and Lolita have given me the illusion of thinking I have read more in this regard than I actually have.
'And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey.......was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tyres, and her sobs in the night – every night, every night – the moment I feigned sleep.'
I am sure many people will disagree with me but I think the point of the beautiful prose was to keep me reading and turning the pages rather then to get me to ‘sympathise’ with Humbert. If the book had been written with a sparse realistic narrative I am sure I would have stopped reading within a couple of chapters.
This is not a story of redemption. Although Humbert acknowledges at the end that he ‘destroyed something’ in Lolita he is never really sorry. Do not read this expecting a moral tale.
'I loved you. I was a pentapod monster, but I loved you. I was despicable and brutal, and turpid, and everything, mas je t'aimais. Je t'aimais! And there were times when I knew how you felt, and it was hell to know it, my little one. Lolita girl, brave Dolly Schiller'.
The above are my garbled thoughts and the parts which I think I will take away from it. It’s the kind of book which demands a re-read as I am sure that many parts of it went right over my head. If I was going to criticise I would say that towards the end, the book did linger quite a bit and became drawn out.
Would I recommend this? I can understand why people would have reservations about picking this one up (I did) but I would recommend that anyone interested in literature in anyway should give this a go.
Verdict 4 ½ /5
Posted by Jess