Lolita

A novel by Vladimir Nabokov

17/04/2021

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita."


I'd been meaning to read Lolita for about a year. I had started and stopped it once or twice, but I only (finally) got around to reading it properly this week after getting my hands on a copy from my local library. I'm very glad that I finally took the time to read it.

Lolita was written in 1955 by Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov. Taken from the Wikipedia page for Lolita, "The novel is notable for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, a middle-aged literature professor under the pseudonym Humbert Humbert, is obsessed with a 12-year-old girl, Dolores Haze, with whom he becomes sexually involved after he becomes her stepfather. "Lolita" is his private nickname for Dolores. The novel was originally written in English and first published in Paris in 1955 by Olympia Press. Later it was translated into Russian by Nabokov himself and published in New York City in 1967 by Phaedra Publishers."

It took me about three days to read it. It's not a particularly long novel, but I did have to stop quite a lot to look up the meanings of words (verisimilitude, preprandial, chiaroscuro and the like) and attempt to translate the various French phrases and sentences ("Est-ce que tu ne m'aimes plus, ma Carmen?") that are scattered generously throughout the book. I also stopped many times to reread passages simply because of how beautifully they were written.


Nabokov's writing in Lolita is absolutely phenomenal. The contrast between such beautiful writing and the taboo subject matter made for an interesting display of juxtaposition. The fact that it is written from Humbert's perspective is fascinating. I found myself sympathising with him several times, sometimes feeling almost as blind to Lolita's suffering as he seemed to be (or forced himself to be). While reading the book, due to the unreliable narrator being so convincing and treading so delicately over the taboo subject matter he discussed, it was disturbingly easy to sympathise with him and find myself entirely willing to follow along as he recounted these events, and I think that the fact that Nabokov is able to make the reader do so is a testament to just how great his writing is.

In addition to this, it was also very funny at times — darkly funny, but funny nonetheless.


I found the ending to be heartbreaking. So as to try not to spoil it, because I really do recommend you read this novel if you haven't already, I won't go into a lot of detail about this. I will say, though, that it feels all the more tragic to read through the ending not just because of how beautifully and wonderfully written it is, but also because at this point it felt unnaturally easy to sympathise not only with Lolita, but also Humbert.

At no point during the novel does the protagonist, Humbert Humbert, ask for forgiveness. He knows that he has done a horrible thing, even going so far as to acknowledge that Lolita had been 'deprived of her childhood by a maniac" (himself). He knows that he is still completely and utterly in love with her, and that he always will be no matter how much she grows, but he also comes to fully accept the amount of suffering that Lolita went through and the hopelessness that she must have felt while she was with him. He acknowledges that nothing in the world is likely to ever assure him that what he did to Lolita will be forgotten or forgiven, and that Lolita will never be able to forget the 'foul lust' he had inflicted upon her.


I absolutely adored this book, and I definitely recommend it and now want to read Nabokov's other works. The subject matter may deter a few people from giving it a chance, but I think that it is a hugely worthwhile read.


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