‘Awe and exhilaration–along with heartbreak and mordant wit–abound in Lolita, Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hyper-civilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of post-war America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love–love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.’
Nobody is immune to the influence of the world. That is why, during the current saturation of Jimmy Savile’s abuse in the media, my mind naturally flew to the notorious Lolita. In a story of paedophilia, abduction and rape, how is it that people can have such different views of the ridiculously-named Humbert Humbert?
Lots of people dislike Humbert Humbert- I think Nabokov gave him the name out of pure dislike. People that don’t dislike him don’t like him, but admit to feeling a strange kind of sympathy for him because he is, at times, the most vulnerable predator I’ve ever encountered. I can’t help agreeing with other reviewers who say they were seduced by his prose into a point of view that was almost sympathetic understanding. Humbert certainly wants to believe that he loves his Lolita, but his acute disdain for her childish love of tacky culture and cinema in contrast to his Old European refinement gave me the impression that he was deluding himself. He constructs a refined fantasy of Lolita that she can’t, as a child, live up to and the enchantment lifts somewhat; leaving the reader with more understanding of what Lolita has lost now that the ‘romance’ of their relationship is all over. There are so many grey areas around Humbert and Lolita that I’m still ambivalent about their relationship today.
Forgetting the issues I obviously have with Humbert, let us move on to Nabokov. After all, a man who could extract sympathy from his readers for a deviant character like Humbert is definitely worth consideration. Nabokov has a wonderfully wry way of writing his Humbert, offsetting the heavy subject matter in quite a natural way that might reflect a human mind attempting to trivialise something that could be described as monstrous, in order to maintain something like sanity. The writing is full of word play which I personally enjoyed but some may find a bit grating or irreverent (like the aptly named Lake Climax). However, for one reviewer (if you didn’t click on the previous links), the prose was worthy of a four-star rating, in spite of her hatred for the protagonist! A ringing endorsement of prose for prose’s sake if there ever was one!
Though Lolita could be described as a polarising book, it shouldn’t be avoided for the sake of squeamishness. You could say it is written in various shades of grey (make no jokes, we are talking about quality literature here) but it is a compelling look into the psyche of Humbert Humbert and IT IS A CLASSIC, DAMN YOU! With less smut than 50 Shades, it proves to be more sensual and more mentally challenging than the entire travesty of that series.
Many thanks to the glamorous Jay Dougherty for lending me the book. I will give it back soon.