Book #66

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Humbert Humbert - scholar, aesthete and romantic - has fallen completely and utterly in love with Dolores Haze, his landlady's gum-snapping, silky skinned twelve-year-old daughter. Reluctantly agreeing to marry Mrs Haze just to be close to Lolita, Humbert suffers greatly in the pursuit of romance; but when Lo herself starts looking for attention elsewhere, he will carry her off on a desperate cross-country misadventure, all in the name of Love.

This is such a maddening and debilitating novel; a disturbing look into the nature of obsession and the danger of man. Writing to us from prison as though we were the jury, Humbert Humbert lays down an account of his life, focusing on his love for Lolita - a twelve year old girl - and his subsequent downfall.

Despite Nabokov truly travelling beyond the limits of what is accepted, Lolita is an artistic and lyrical work, analysing the mind of the paedophile and allowing us to hear his unthinkable thoughts. Humbert is an educated, worldly guy; his writing is intellectual, poetic, and impressive. Although he’s a disgusting demon, and an unreliable narrator, he is our only window into the events we’re judging him on, and at times I forgot to judge him, which led to me judging myself. And this seems to be the question Humbert is asking - does he deserve our pity?

His eloquent narrative focuses entirely on the object of his love and his quest to initially gain some time alone with her, then to manipulate her to return his love, and finally, simply, to ensure she never leaves. His account is deeply sad, reflecting his loneliness, his inability to escape the past, and his constant self torture. He undoubtedly deserves all of this, but there’s something delectable about seeing him suffer, and something completely jarring about finding yourself feeling his distress alongside him.

And yet, his unreliability is clear. At times he portrays Lolita as a child; a simple, naive young girl who has no understanding of the realities of life. At others, he describes her as a femme fatale; manipulative, cunning, hellbent on leading him directly towards his destruction. Is he trying to fool himself or trying to fool those who will decide his fate? Or both? Neither? It’s something that wasn’t clear to me, and I thought this to be important when attempting to analyse him.

A very emotionally draining, upsetting, and uncomfortable novel, difficult to stomach, difficult to review, but an utterly mesmerising and guilt-ridden look at a forsaken man who is merely a victim of his own conduct.