Genre: Literary Fiction, Anti-Heroes, Masculinity
Narrative Style: First person
Synopsis: Humbert Humbert is a self-confessed lover of nymphets. When he sees Dolores Haze for the first time, he knows that she is the culmination of all of his most intimate fantasies. So much so that he agrees to marry her mother – even though he holds her in high contempt – in order to be near to her. When it seems that Lolita is gaining attention elsewhere, he takes her away on a car journey that crosses America.
Reading Challenges: Alphabet Soup Challenge: Author Edition
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. What I mean is, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to cope with reading it. Most people have some idea of what it is about and it is still considered shocking so I assumed it must be quite explicit. It is not. In fact, release is often deferred and the sexual encounters are not described in any straightforward way. Nabokov prefers metaphors and allusions to full on descriptions and thank goodness for that.
Not that it makes it an easier read or any less shocking. Getting to see inside the head of a paedophile is never going to be a fun experience and Humbert Humbert is unpleasant in every possible way. He tries to normalise his lust for Lolita which makes for uncomfortable reading. Thankfully, Nabokov does not allow any pity or sympathy for him. He is creepy, using his good looks to get what he wants – from grown women as well as from Lolita. He is particularly cynical in his using of Lolita’s mother. He has no redeeming features. He has contempt for everything and everyone around him. The America he describes is of a low standard with crumbling motels and unpleasant people. He is an European immigrant and clearly thinks himself better than them. He frequently describes himself as poet, as writer. He has a taste for the finer things. He appears to think that his sexual longings come under this heading as well. All of this makes me better than you.
There is not a single person in the novel that Humbert actually likes. Outside of his sexual fantasies of Lolita, he finds her quite disagreeable. She is sulky, frequently has tantrums and he has no care for any of her interests. He uses her for sex like he might use a blow up doll and feels no need to have any interest in her outside of her body. Even though it is not described – Humbert preferring to concentrate on describing the seediness of their journey across America – it is still apparent that every time they stop somewhere then Humbert will rape Lolita and this knowledge is hard to stomach. It is satisfying when eventually she manages to escape his clutches. Not that life gets that much better for her.
The book is very well written with lots of clever word play and complicated vocabulary. (I spent a lot of time looking up words on my phone. If only I’d been reading it on my kindle.) Not to mention all the French phrases which are scattered through the novel. Having said that, the writing flows really well. It doesn’t feel that Nabakov is showing off his immense vocabulary a la Ian McEwan where every sentence feels like an opportunity to show the reader how very clever he is. It is compelling, particularly towards the end when Humbert is searching for his rival with murder on his mind.
Overall, I am glad that I have read this book but I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone else. It wasn’t enjoyable. It was painful and discomforting.