I first read Lolita when I was much younger – before I was married, in fact. Vladimir Nabokov is such an amazing novelist that I wanted to read it again, but I was reluctant. Lolita is, after all, the story of a pedophile, and I have children now. How would I react to reading this story as the mother of a ten year old daughter?
Surprisingly, I wasn’t caught up in the disturbing nature of the subject matter. I was actually mesmerized by the character of Humbert Humbert. The author truly did his research. Humbert is so calculating and patient. Today we know that is the hallmark of a child molester. They are clever and carefully plan how to capture their prey by manipulating the child and the people around them.
Nabokov’s writing is so much better than I remembered. Presenting the narrative from the point of view of Humbert Humbert, makes the story somewhat sympathetic (I know – how is that possible?). Perhaps it’s because Humbert is so pathetic, or perhaps it’s because he’s trying too hard to convince himself and us that he’s rational – but the character actually becomes engaging. He’s not someone you’d keep at a distance – but rather someone you’d try to help, to talk down his insane justifications.
I love the character of Dorothy Haze – Nabokov definitely has the preteen female down pat, complete with attitude. Not much as changed in 60 years. What’s interesting is all the characters present ugly personalities on the surface except Humbert Humbert. His facade is all charm and good looks, and yet his true nature is ugly.
I was having a conversation with my brother the other day about Nabokov and his writing style. He brought up the author’s vast knowledge of language and his ability to use words with dual meanings to make a literary point. And not just known meanings – we’re talking obscure meanings. The man was a genius. It’s that simple.
And so just like Humbert Humbert, Nabokov lures you the reader, with his literary seduction. He definitely took me in and mesmerized me with his brilliance. But stripped away of the artful language, we are left with a middle aged man who commits rape and murder. We have been stalked by the most calculating and patient of authors. He has taken us in and left us like poor Dorothy, not Lolita at all, but a frail human, easily succumbing to the artful manipulations of a master.
5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1995 (originally published in 1955)
Amazon Book Preview of “Lolita”