January 2, 2014

Lolita

by Vladimir Nabokov

For the longest time, I had been meaning to read this controversial book but for some reason, I just didn't feel all that inspired. So when the chance to do so presented itself in the form of the September face-to-face discussion over at the book club, I grabbed it right away. I know I would not read the book on my own volition nor would I attempt to pick it up anytime soon, so when the book was chosen as the book for September, I was more than happy.



The sole reason for my interest in reading Lolita is the fact that it is controversial. The plot is simple, really: it's about pedophilia. Basically, that's older people preferring sexual relations with children. But I have also read that this work - for me, curiously - has been touted as "the greatest love story of all time" or something or other. Before I began reading it, I was wary about the accuracy of the foregoing description. For one, I didn't even realize that this was supposed to be a love story, and for another, I just couldn't reconcile or use the words "pedophilia" and "love" in one sentence, to be honest. Still, I set aside whatever reservations I had and plowed on with my reading, expecting nothing. Well, except for the sexual intimacies that I know will most probably be described at length, that is.

*

In a nutshell, Lolita is the first-person narrative of Humbert Humbert, an English professor who has a rabid obsession with what he calls "nymphets" - he describes them in the book with much particularity, even requiring a certain age in order to be called one - and who becomes seriously obsessed with and eventually engages in carnal relations with Dolores Haze, a young girl barely into her teens when they first meet. Dolores, whom Humbert fondly calls Lolita, his special nymphet, is the daughter of the woman Humbert takes as his wife. But fate and circumstances force an entirely different set-up for the three of them, and Humbert takes full charge.

*

To be blunt about it, I didn't like either Humbert or Lolita. And I wish I could write this disquisition without touching upon issues on morality and propriety, but then what would else would be left to write about?


There is the notion that Humbert's obsession for his nymphets could be attributed to his teenage love, Annabel, and their foiled attempt at physical intimacy. There is also the time when Humbert  voluntarily committed himself into a mental institution, which suggests that there is something amiss with his mental faculties. I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, so I will not even tread in that direction. I will say, though, that even if Humbert's warped actions or immoral decisions regarding the child Lolita may be sufficiently mitigated by the aberration in his psychological makeup, what he felt towards her wasn't really love. Some would argue that perhaps it didn't really start out as love - that Humbert's initial attraction towards Lolita was impelled by lust and that the love only came later on, when they had spent some time together. But I still don't buy it. In fact, I would even venture to say that if Humbert's actions towards Lolita could be ascribed to his mental or psychological shortcomings, then how can his "love" - whether pure or after-the-fact - towards the child be considered any different? It wasn't love; it was an illness and a perversion.

Meanwhile, Lolita, for all her youth, could neither be considered as entirely innocent, in the grand scheme of things. She was a tease, she was aware that Humbert lusted after her, and she knew that her actions merely fueled Humbert's desire for her. She knew that she had Humbert nicely wrapped around her finger, so she took advantage of the situation and manipulated him in order to get what she wants: material things, nice things. All the while playing the poor, innocent rape victim.

*

Still, Lolita is but a child. No matter how devious or manipulative she may have been, she is still a child whose consent cannot be properly or legally given until she comes of age, and to take advantage of this youth to satisfy one's carnal desires is plain and simple rape. In Humbert's case, his subsequent relationship with Lolita aggravated the crime. Did Humbert really love her? I doubt it. Could you really love a child in that way? A non-filial, romantic way? Perhaps I'm not as liberal-minded as I thought, then. Because I have no problem with two unattached, consenting adults who wish to do whatever they want romantically or intimately. Just don't involve children in the picture.

*

But I will concede, the prose was elegant, and I love it. I enjoyed the euphemisms and the language.  That justifies the rating, and I'm glad I'm finally able to read it.

My rendition of a Lolita book cover for the book club's activity.


Rating: ★★★
Book details: Trade paperback, 50th Anniversary Edition, bought brand-new from Fully Booked BHS

3 comments:

angus25 said...

I guess readers will not stop offering varying opinions on the book, and this is ultimately why it will always be controversial. [And there's nothing to worry in this review. :)]

Monique said...

BUDDY: That's true. This book... it's just not for me, that's all. :)

Peter S. said...

Hi, Monique! You've read one of my favorite books of all time! I love everything about this book - the controversial subject, the beautiful and fluid prose, the head-spinning allusions! I completely understand why you feel iffy about some parts of it though.

And you should try Nabokov's stories too!