Book Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-tah.” Humbert Humbert has fallen in love. He is head over heels with the girl of his dreams and can’t think of anything else but her. He would give anything to be with her, just the two of them alone together. So when he gets his chance, he takes it. They drive across the highway roads of America, stopping in motels along the way, leaving a trail of fake names and lies. He buys her all the treats she could ever ask for, gives in to her every need and want. Anything for his darling, nymphet Lolita. A love story? Not quite.
Lolita is the controversial story of a middle aged man, Humbert Humbert, who falls in love with his land-lady’s twelve-year-old daughter Dolores Haze, also known as Lolita. To stay close to the child, he marries her mother, Charlotte Haze, in the hope that he’ll one day have the opportunity to get Lolita all to himself. Sure enough, when Charlotte dies in a terrible accident, he seizes his chance and whisks Lolita away. They embark on a road trip across America together for several months before residing in a house in the town of Beardsley together.
Despite the shocking content and narrative of the story, readers will find themselves feeling sorry for Humbert. We know that what he has done to Lolita is wrong and should we hear this story on the news, we would be praying for the man to be locked up and the key thrown away. The first person perspective in this story allows us to understand Humbert’s motives and excuses behind his actions. It gives the reader a unique look into the mind-set of a paedophile, helping us to understand why he is drawn to Lolita in this way. We can see that although what he doing is undoubtedly wrong, it is being done out of love for the child. The reader will begin to see him more as a sick man, rather than an evil one.
The book is written in the style of a confession from Humbert. The foreword tells us of Humbert sat in his jail cell composing his confession, presumably to be read in court. We’re reminded of this throughout the story as he addresses the reader as the jury. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number 1…” he writes. His account is honest and he admits to everything he believes was wrongful of him. But he excuses himself for actions he believes to be justified. He fully understands throughout the novel that his actions were wrong in the eyes of the law as he is persistently fearful of being caught. He doesn’t seem to understand that his actions were wrong in the eyes of Lolita too. He seems to fully believe that she is in love with him; he is blind sighted by his own love for her.
The book is a challenging read due to couple of reasons. Firstly, and most obviously is the content. While the story might be told like a love story, it is indisputably a story of paedophilia and abuse. Readers should not be fooled by Lolita and her own lust for Humbert. While she may not be trying to escape from this man, he is still holding her captive. Her willingness to stay with him does not justify his kidnapping and abuse of her. Secondly, the book is challenging due to the poetic language. Although the language is beautiful to read, at times you may find yourself re-reading passages, trying to figure out what it is you have just read. Due to both of these reasons, I found that Lolita wasn’t a book I could fully immerse myself with and sit and read for hours on end. I took my time reading some passages to fully understand them and frequently put the book down to think about what I had just read. Despite this, I would highly recommend it to others to read. It’s a unique story, doing what very few other novels do, by telling such a harrowing account of abuse from the abuser’s point of view.
Although written over 60 years ago, the story of Lolita is one that is still very much relevant today. Stories of sexual abuse and paedophilia sadly are still very present in the news and are no more acceptable now than they were at the time of Lolita’s publication. The story focuses predominantly around the mind of Humbert rather than the time that these events took place. Although it is not modern, it could very easily be a story of the 21st century.