May 22, 2015

Book Review—Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov’s most celebrated and infamous novel. It is the story of Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged literature academic. While staying at the Haze residence to work on a multivolume comparison of French and English writers he meets Dolores, or, as he will come to know her, Lolita: “Light of my life, fire of my loins”. There is however a problem: Lolita is 12 years old, and Humbert goes to extreme lengths to see and hold Lolita, even marrying Charlotte Haze, her mother, whom he despises. Finally possessing that which he desires, Humbert regales through the troubling ‘relationship’, until in the end the already tawdry tale escalates to murder.

Humbert is unrepentant and neither is Nabokov’s prose. On full show are the writer’s love of and skill with striking phrases, puns, literary allusions and transformations that ooze over every line. It is alarming to have such vile subject matter in such incredible prose, and for many this is a stumbling block. It is a peculiarity that erotic elements in literature are often not viewed beyond the surface. It is accepted that Moby Dick is about more than just whaling, or that The Great Gatsby is about more than wild parties and excess in the Jazz Age. But with Lolita the obvious perversion is all some see, with Nabokov’s rich style viewed as an attempt at masquerading a “dirty little book”.

Lolita is best described as the twisted comedy of Humbert, a pompous, vile, self-absorbed unreliable narrator. He has his charms, chief among them his verbose wit, and many more flaws, primarily his misuse of his eloquence. But his is a hilarious, ironic tale of the collision of memory and desire in the mind of a vain wretch.

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