Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Number of pages: 376
My copy: Kindle edition
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 hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love—love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.
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There are some books that I told myself I would never read. I would never put them in an actual list, really, but I know that these are the books that I would ignore in a bookstore, books that I wouldn’t even think of buying. Reasons behind this may vary, but you know how we readers have preferences depending on the books we enjoy, or the time we have or the things we value, and all that.
I said that about Les Miserables late last year. I’d never read it because it’s just too thick, and I simply have no time. Then I read it and finished it in 45 days.
I said the same thing for Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. I didn’t think I would read it, because frankly, I found the topic icky. I mean, a grown man supposedly “in love” with a child? I squirm at the thought — just as how I squirmed and looked away when I watched those crime shows (based on a true story or not) that involved someone who sexually abuses a child. It’s just not something I would even want to read, quite honestly.
And then, Lolita won in our book club’s polls for our September discussion. I guess in a way it was my fault for suggesting banned books as a topic for September, and this one made it to the final list. Lolita was far more popular than the two other books in the list, so it was kind of a shoo-in to win. I remember thinking (and saying this to one of the discussion moderators): Perhaps it’s time for me to read this. Year of the Brave, you say?
I won’t talk about the plot anymore because this is a pretty popular novel, with its controversial themes and gorgeous prose, as they say. I knew I was a apprehensive when I started reading hits. No, not because I can relate to any of it (thank God I don’t), but because I was wary of how it would go with me. Lolita is readable overall, because its prose isn’t hard to read, nor it is boring. It’s very well-written, actually, and it’s commendable especially since Nabokov’s first language is Russian. Humbert Humbert comes off as an unreliable narrator from the start, and Lolita is his account of what happened with her and to some events that led him to make that statement. I got confused about that, honestly — why “statement”? I figure he did something wrong there, but what? Did he kill someone? Who? Did he kill Lolita? (No, this isn’t a spoiler)
Let me go back to the prose. It was gorgeous, and surprisingly, it isn’t explicit. I mean, sometimes I have to go back to some passages to understand what Nabokov was writing about and then I’ll realize what happened there. Huh. And then I read on, and I go all, “Huh” again. I mean that in a good way, really.
Here’s the thing: I sort of predicted from the start that I would probably not rate Lolita higher than three stars, given that this isn’t really the kind of book I would read. I think even my friends expected that. But when I got to the end while I waited in line at the bank to pay some bills…I don’t know, I knew I couldn’t rate it that. I can’t explain it in full, but there was something in that ending that just made me change my mind. Is it the writing? Probably. Is it how Nabokov somehow made Humbert Humbert seemed deserving of sympathy? Maybe. I don’t know, really. It’s been a little over a month since I finished this book, but I still can’t answer that. All I know is I found myself thinking at the ending. It doesn’t make everything that he did or whatever happened in the story less icky because it is icky, period. But somehow, there was something in the ending that made me change my mind about rating this novel.
Lolita is controversial, I have to agree. But I also agree that this is just one of those books that a reader has to read in their lifetime. I’m glad my book club made me read this.
Number of dog-ears: 15
Favorite dog-eared quote(s):
We loved each other with a premature love, marked by a fierceness that so often destroys adult lives.
My heart was a hysterical, unreliable organ.
And presently I was driving through the drizzle of the dying day, with the windshield wipers in full action but unable to cope with my tears.