Reviewer: Tall, Short, Tiny & a Pickle
Lolita is one of those books that I’d heard of, but knew very little about before picking it up from our local library. It is considered one of the best novels of the 20th-Century, and therefore I had high expectations….which sadly, weren’t met.
Lolita tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a 38-year-old scholar with an obsession for young girls (“nymphets”), who, after a failed marriage and a stint in a mental hospital, falls for his landlady’s 12-year-old daughter. He is infatuated with young Dolores (who he nicknames Lolita), partly because she reminds him of his childhood sweetheart who died prematurely.
“I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita.”
Humbert takes every opportunity to be alone with his Lolita, and when they aren’t alone, he finds ways to watch her inconspicuously, or touch her in a seemingly paternal way. While she is away on summer camp, her mother, Charlotte, gives Humbert an ultimatum: marry her, or move out. Humbert doesn’t want to be away from Lolita, and agrees to marry Charlotte; she has no idea of his feelings for Lolita until she reads his diary. She threatens to expose Humbert, but before she can take any action, she is struck by a car and dies.
Charlotte’s death gives Humbert the opportunity to become more than just a step-father to Lolita; they begin a sexual relationship and spend a couple of years on the road, until settling in a town where Lolita can attend a girls’ school (Humbert is possessive and jealous, refusing to allow her anything to do with boys of her own age). While at the school, Lolita becomes involved in drama, and her quest for freedom from Humbert begins here.
The subject matter of Lolita is uncomfortable at times, but it is less so than I thought it might be. The novel is written in such a way that the language and humour took a prominent position for me – this might not be the case for everyone, however, and if you do plan on reading this book, please go into it knowing it has been classified by some as “erotic fiction”. Nabokov’s style is typical of other Russian authors, but unusually, his novel is set in America, not Russia.
I think that the main reason, however, that I didn’t find Lolita as uncomfortable as I expected is that the underlying theme of love, regardless of societal norms:
“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. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.”
There was just something about Lolita that missed the mark for me. It was poetic, and beautifully-written, but it didn’t grab me, and I found reading it a bit of a chore. This novel wasn’t for me, but I accept that others have and will love it, in order for it to take its place on the 1001 Books list.