“Despite its lascivious reputation, the pleasures of Lolita are as much intellectual as erogenous.”

 

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

Lolita is a book that had long been on my “To read” list but, I have to admit, I was a little bit apprehensive about the title. I didn’t know a great deal about the novel but what I did know felt like enough. This infamous book is set from the viewpoint of a middle aged man who falls in love with a prepubescent girl he calls Lolita. The two embark upon a road trip across the United States while our narrator tries to justify his actions and convince the reader that his love for Lolita is true.

It would indeed be easy for the average reader to think twice before picking up Lolita. Opinion was divided upon its release with some critics damning it for its erotic contents. In 1955, the Sunday Express’ editor called it “sheer unrestrained pornography” and the book was even banned in Britain for two years. However, the book has also received high praise for tackling such controversial themes with undeniable elegance and beauty. Whether you love it or loathe it, Lolita has become a modern classic and was ranked the fourth greatest book of the twentieth centaury by Modern Library. With this all in mind I decided to try it out for myself.

Within only a few pages it’s clear that Lolita is without question a beautifully written book, a fact made all the more impressive with the knowledge that the author was not writing in his native language. If Lolita is one of the most controversial books ever written then it’s also one of the most well written. The novel begins with our protagonist/antagonist unremorsefully declaring his love for Lolita and I defy anyone not to be, just for a moment, taken in by his love, at least until they remember his love is for a 12 year old girl, then they’ll be yanked back into the reality of the situation and feel bad for being drawn in by our unreliable narrator. Such is the power of Nabokov’s writing.

Our main character, Humbert Humbert admits to having been attracted to young girls all his life but falls totally in love when he meets a young girl named Lolita. After scheming his way into her life, Humbert then takes Lolita on a road trip across the States. Along the way Hubert initiates a sexual relationship with his beloved child and tries to convince the reader that his love for Lolita is sincere.

Whilst I had heard that Lolita was beautifully written and I knew it was controversial, I was genuinely surprised to find that it is also a very funny book in parts. Humbert is aware of how bizarre the situation he and Lolita are in and he knows that few readers will approve of his actions. After one particular scene between he and Lolita, Humbert reflects that the reader’s eyebrows must have reached the roof by now. As a reviewer for The Independent wrote: “There is no funnier monster in modern literature than poor, doomed Humbert Humbert.”

I mentioned earlier that some have called Lolita “erotica” or even “pornography” but these are labels I have to disagree with. The book itself doesn’t contain a single curse word and the infrequent erotic scenes are subtle and could well be missed by the reader. This is not a book who’s point is to titillate or shock, at least not in a sexual way. Those of you who have read the likes of 50 Shades of Grey or Game of Thrones have read far bluer things than anything this has to offer.

One of Lolita’s most intriguing points is the fact that our narrator is unreliable. Perhaps not intentionally so, he does seem to want only to try and show his side of events, but there are at least two sides to every story and in trying to make us understand his version of things he, perhaps intentionally or not, glosses over how Lolita may be feeling. Taking everything Humbert says as fact could lead a reader to conclude that Humbert’s relationship with Lolita, whilst certainly very morally grey, isn’t quite as abhorrent as it may initially seem. However, look a little closer and it’s clear that Nabokov has left clues which indicate that Lolita’s state of mind is slowly but surely beginning to darken as the trip winds on and her tolerance of Humbert turns to disgust. It’s debatable as to whether Humbert is aware of the toll his actions have on Lolita, but that toll is still there. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I would be fascinated to read a version of the same events from Lolita’s point of view.

Is Herbert a monster trying to trick the reader into feeling sympathetic towards him or is he simply a madman who’s love for a child is too much for him to bear? Does he deserve our sympathy or our disgust, maybe both? The depth of this novel is such that it will inspire different responses from everyone who reads it and I would happily debate the morality of Humbert’s actions with another reader for hours. I would highly recommend that anyone even vaguely curious read this book. At worst you’ll be appalled and disgusted, at best you’ll be forced to feel sympathy for such a man, but I promise you won’t soon forget Lolita.

 

Reviewed by:

Thom Peart

Added 29th January 2017

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Thom Peart

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

There is a law that requires anyone writing a review of Nabokov’s novel to begin with the words “But, first, I should point out that child molestation is morally indefensible.”

Strangely, no such law exists requiring similar caveats at the beginning of, for instance, American Psycho. But then we already knew that it’s not the done thing to abduct, torture, rape and then kill women. Or indeed to abduct, torture, kill and THEN rape them. Pshaw. Let me begin by saying that, groping children is WRONG. Just don’t do it.

That said, it’s telling that when I Googled for a really well written erotic novel, the first one that comes up on several lists is a story about a kiddy fiddler. Go figure.

By turns, erotic, romantic, sordid, ironic, comic and tragic.

Romantic: The childish love affair between the young Humbert and his sweetheart Annabel – all unfulfilled fumblings and unconsummated gropings – is sweet and poignant. And yet it is what sets the man on the path to paedophilia.

Comic: Humbert’s disdain for his “comedy wife”, Valeria and her taxi driving, White Russian colonel beau. The laughs are the nasty, judgemental sort, the kind that you’re secretly ashamed of.

Erotic: I’m sorry, but Nabokov’s lingering description of the nymphet Lolita IS erotic. Of course it transgresses the most sacrosanct of social boundaries, but it is all the more prurient for it.

Sordid: Humbert attains his loins’ desire and takes the (mostly willing) Lo on what he intends to be a paedophillic road trip around the American mid-West. Not graphically rendered, but even Humbert knows he’s doing wrong (and he revels in it). And reading those passages that ARE  clearly and unambiguously expressed, any frisson of arousal is quickly overtaken by the realisation of what – exactly – is happening.

Ironic: The road trip into an archetypal, lengthy and hellish family holiday, where Dolores plays the dual roles of nagging wife and restless, back-seat-are-we-nearly-there-yet child to Humbert’s harried husband. His love affair with the child of his moist dreams changes into the very sort of marriage that he despised of when wed to Valeria and then Charlotte.

Tragic: The whole story is a tragedy in the classical sense. No one wins.

Lyrical, disturbing, beautiful and dirty. A classic that you may well be unwilling to read. Try it.

 

Reviewed by:

Campbell McAulay

Added 3rd August 2015

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Strawberry Fields

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

I have been deliberating very much on what to say about this book, so I will just express my feelings and observations as they come to me.

First of all, I am a lover of “classic” books, and this is one I had never read, perhaps out of my own prudish feelings about the subject matter. However, I decided to give it a try to see what all the hype was about and just basically to be able to say, “Yeah, I read it.”.

I expected a lot of graphic sex and that was certainly not the case. Most of the sex scenes were more implied than anything else, and what few the reader is given details, it is not explicit at all. There are no curse words to be found anywhere in the book.

What captured my attention throughout was trying to figure out Humbert and what drives his obsessions, as most of us must wonder about sexual predators. He justifies his actions vehemently from cover to cover, which in my mind says he knew what he was doing was wrong. One doesn’t have to justify what he feels is acceptable. He seems to blame a lot of his behavior on Lolita herself. While she is certainly no angel herself, he as the adult had a responsibility to curtail that. In his weakness he succumbs which in his mind gives him an out on his own personal behavior. All this being said, it is easy to see Humbert as a rational personal who is truly in love. He manages to suck you in at times into believing that he is not such a bad guy, as deplorable as his actions are.

What I didn’t like about the book was that it was incredibly “wordy”. Some paragraphs were several pages long. It was easy to get lost in the verbiage although the word play was very captivating. In addition, much of the book was in French with no translations given. I took French in high school roughly 30 years ago (giving away my age!) and I was able to decipher enough to get the general gist of what was being said but not a full accurate translation. I would think that a reader who knows nothing of the language would find this very frustrating.

Overall, I feel the book is over-hyped, and was not at all up to my expectations. I wanted to really like it, however I just couldn’t muster up any more energy than to rate it a 2. I also feel that the book is overly demonized. As I read I really couldn’t find much to be indignant about other than the subject matter itself, child molestation.

 

Reviewed by:

Strawberry Fields

Added 16th August 2015

More Reviews By
Strawberry Fields

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