When I picked up Lolita (by Vladimir Nabokov) for an autumn read last year, I had an entirely different set of expectations. I was approaching it with the mindset of approaching a regular classic, hoping for romanticism, maybe even tragedy, with a bit of questioning of the societal norms. A few pages in, and the author had dispelled my illusion for good. So, if you ever wondered what kind of love story this is, let’s get it straight right at the start – it’s not!
If anything, Lolita is more like a compilation of the narrator’s darkest thoughts and confessions. It is entirely a one-sided view of the world and its relationship with him. But above all, it is all about his obsession with the titular character.
Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged literature professor from Paris, trying to adjust to the English life in a small town. He manages to find himself a decent home and a landlady who later falls in love with him. But that is not the story he seems interested in telling because his heart is elsewhere. He dotes over Dolores Haze – a playful and happy little beauty. And it is for her that he coins a secret nickname – Lolita.
Lolita stirs a range of feelings in him. Passion, longing, lust, and obsession all come and go in unison. He even calls her an embodiment of his lost love. He watches her and chronicles every move of hers. He hardly holds any meaningful conversations with Lolita but keeps fantasizing about getting closer. It is evident without being explicit that he fancies her sexually, hoping she would feel the same. He yearns to touch her and expresses it quite well that he desires a lot more.
If you feel a little off about how there is no insight into the way Dolores feels, the book has worse things to unsettle you. One, Humbert Humbert decides to marry the landlady I was talking about – Charlotte. Two, he does so to be able to stay closer to his “Lolita” because Lolita/Dolores is Charlotte’s daughter. And three, Lolita is only twelve years old!
Not Your Usual Forbidden Love
It is easy to mistake Lolita as a thrilling romantic adventure or erotica dipped in mystery or even an exciting tale of forbidden love. Let me tell you, it is none of that. While critics may be divided in their opinions, I see this book as an eye-opening perspective about a pedophile’s mind. It is infuriating and, at the same time, enlightening to see how despicable and sick the narrator is. After a point, it even gets fascinating to see what new explanations he concocts to continue his side of the story.
In fact, you have to take a pause every now and then to appreciate the genius of Nabokov. Developing a character like Humbert Humbert, giving life to the inner workings of his mind, and representing his disgusting demeanor could not have been easy. You don’t even have to worry about the essence being lost in translation because both versions of the book- original Russian and translated English – are written by Nabokov.
In addition to the writing style and creativity of the author, there are three specific attributes about the book that make it an excellent read.
The Missing Pieces Of The Puzzle
The one-sided account that overemphasizes Humbert Humbert’s thoughts and assumptions seems like a deliberate move to keep the reader intrigued about Lolita’s opinions. The entire story is about her, and yet, we never truly get to hear her side of it, what she went through as a mere child being coaxed and abused by her stepfather.
Encouraging The Reader’s Independent Thought Process
There are no explicit descriptions to suggest abuse or sexual exploitation. The pedophile keeps blabbering about his involvement with Lolita to make it sound like a consensual relationship. However, it is very easy to realize how he is not telling the whole truth by omitting details that could incriminate him. He is very cautious not to give us any reason to accuse him of abuse or even rape, and at the same time, if you are smart enough, you will discover it all by yourself.
The Final Touch Of A Fictitious Foreword
Let me not give away too many spoilers, but Humbert Humbert does end up in prison. And as I hinted earlier, the book is presented to us in a way as if it expects us to believe it as a real account of a disturbed convict. While the author accomplishes this throughout with his brilliant writing style, he takes it a step further by adding a fictitious foreword. The make-belief is perfected and complete as we read this note by “an editor of psychology books”. This editor tells us that he is merely presenting the memoir of a man who died of heart disease and that Humbert Humbert is just a pseudonym.
I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone. It is strictly meant for adults who can stomach the type of discomfort it invokes. This is not a dark romance, nor is it erotica. It is just a sick man’s memoir who lies and constantly bluffs, trying in vain to gain the reader’s sympathy. And this quality of believable writing, as if we are getting a glimpse of a real person’s psyche, is what makes this book a masterpiece.
The beauty of this book is in the fact that it makes you hate it. You will hate the narrator, his hypocrisy, and everything he does from the beginning until the end. It is like confronting a real pervert who would say anything to justify his actions. You can clearly see through his façade and desperate attempts at manipulating everything that happened throughout the book. In gist, this book is a five-star read because the author dared to construct a fictional perspective that is entirely realistic and entirely loathsome. The beauty of Lolita is in its ugliness. You can get the book here! 📖
When I picked up Lolita (by Vladimir Nabokov) for an autumn read last year, I had an entirely different set of expectations. I was approaching it with the mindset of approaching a regular classic, hoping for romanticism, maybe even tragedy, with a bit of questioning of the societal norms. A few pages in, and the author had dispelled my illusion for good. So, if you ever wondered what kind of love story this is, let's get it straight right at the start - it's not!
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
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