1. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
2. Holiday in Cambodia – Laura Jean McKay
3. Only Human – Gareth Roberts
4. Beautiful Chaos – Gary Russell
5. The Silent Stars – Dan Abnett
6. American Gods – Neil Gaiman
7. Every Breath – Ellie Marney
8. Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
9. Delirium – Lauren Oliver
10. Pandemonium – Lauren Oliver
11. Requiem – Lauren Oliver
12. Venom – Fiona Paul
13. Belladonna – Fiona Paul
14. A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki
First of all, I would like to point out that I do not read Literary classics for the sake of reading them. Admittedly, I feel a sense of pride in being able to tell people that I have read them, but I don’t feel that this makes me a “better” reader than anybody else. I find Jane Austen dull, Great Expectations made me want to punch Pip and Estella in the face, Romeo and Juliet just all-around pissed me off, and don’t even get me started on the whiney narrator that is Frankenstein. But I loved Wuthering Heights, In Cold Blood, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Hamlet was so amazing I plan on having a Hamlet themed tattoo sleeve by the time I’ve grown up.
I also study a writing degree, as I have stated numerous times before. And because of this my lecturers, tutors, and fellow students are often going on and on about books that I have never read. My main genre is fantasy. And not the “high-end” stuff. So when people start going on about Ulysses, The Road, The Portrait of Dorian Grey I basically just nod along. But I kept hearing about this novel called Lolita. Apparently the introduction was so exquisite that it motivated many of my lecturers to speak of its brilliance. So I thought, “OK, I’ll give it a go.” I’m no stranger to “writerly” novels. Cloud Atlas is one such novel. Once you get over the difficulty of the first chapter, you see a glimmer of genius so blinding that it eclipses any hope you have of becoming a writer in your own right, but I digress.
Finally, one day, when I was in a book café in Byron Bay, I saw Lolita sitting on a shelf, just begging to be picked up. And for $9.95, I really couldn’t see the harm in purchasing the book. Especially when it had had such rave reviews from people in the literary community I hold in such high esteem. It sat on my shelf for months, patiently awaiting me to finish the Dollanganger series, and The Pillars of the Earth. I started my Lolita journey on the 4th of September and finished it this morning.
Vladimir Nabokov is a brilliant writer. His turns of phrase are incredible. The way he described a scratch on the eponymous character’s arm – or was it leg? – was stunning. He can make even the most dreary scene in his novel seem magical. However, this does not disguise the fact that the narrator, one Mr. Humbert Humbert, is a paedophile. He may be a high-functioning paedophile, who is able to watch his “nymphets” (defined as being girls aged 8-14) from afar, but he still fantasises about them, and in the most disgusting ways possible. And, of course, he loses his self-control for his step-daughter Lolita (or Dolores, Dolly, Lo, Annabel 2.0). In fact, Monsieur Humbert only marries Lolita’s mother, Charlotte, so that he can be close to her daughter. Then, after Charlotte dies in a car accident that was, in fact, an accident, Humbert succumbs to his twisted desires and Lolita and he leave on a road-trip that spans years. And he “enjoys” his step-daughter along the way.
Yes, really. At least Nabokov is kind enough to write in such a lyrical way that you aren’t really sure what you’re reading about until you, Humbert, and Lolita are safely in the car, driving away from the scene of the crime.
From what I can gather, as I am not a crime reader, most novels centre around the authorities that bring a paedophile to justice, or the victim of paedophilia and the story of how they overcome their abusive childhood. We very rarely glimpse into the dark and disturbed minds of the paedophiles themselves. And that is for one very simple reason: it is uncomfortable for the reader. I felt I was riding a series of waves as I plunged my way through this novel. I would be sucked under by Nabokov’s intoxicating prose and then be spat back into the shallows by the reminder that he was writing about a twelve-year-old girl. For the first two-thirds of Lolita I was struggling with my need to finish the damn thing. I very nearly gave up, however, after reading the following quote:
“the thought that with patience and luck I might have her [Lolita] produce eventually a nymphet with my blood in her exquisite veins, a Lolita the Second, who would be eight or nine around 1960, when I would still be dans la force l’âge (strength in the age, apparently), indeed the telescope of my mind, or un-mind, was strong enough to distinguish in the remoteness of time a vieillard encore vert (old still green) – or was it green rot? – bizarre, tender, salivating Dr Humbert, practicing on a supremely lovely Lolita the Third, the art of being a granddad.”
So, essentially, Humbert knew that one day Lolita would be “too old” to hold his interest and he was planning a contingency plan. Namely, that he would breed his victims. I had to put the book down for a while after that. The reader is told from the very beginning of the novel that Humbert has spent time in sanatoriums, and so we know that he is wrong in the head. But still, his fantasising about sleeping with his own flesh and blood was too much for me.
The fact that Humbert constantly refers to “jurors” in his tale told me that the bastard gets caught. And I wanted to be there when it happened. So I picked the book back up and waited, with bated breath, for him to be taken into custody. I watched as Humbert fumbled around after Lolita, who you can’t help but hate just a little bit, escapes his lascivious clutches. When Humbert took to carrying around a gun, I hoped that he would eventually turn “Chum”, as he called it, on himself and end it all. But he had a completely different purpose for that gun, which I won’t tell you because it is a spoiler, even though Lolita was published back in 1959, and there have been two movies made since then.
I am not entirely sure if this counts as a book review, because I’ve basically spent the whole time whinging about the narrator character. But, I’m going to give Lolita a star rating anyway. As much as I hate the subject matter, and felt faintly sick as I read my way across America with Humbert and Lolita, the fact that Nabokov was able to make me feel nauseated throughout the entire story, as well as hold my interest with his elegant prose, demonstrates what a marvellous writer he actually was.
So, I award Lolita :
★ ★ ★ 1/2
I took away 1 1/2 stars because I really, really hate paedophiles. And I hope Humbert Humbert got the death penalty or at the very least, life in prison.
And to end, here’s the trailer for the 1962 movie adaptation of Lolita, which raises a very important point: “How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?”
- Hear Vladimir Nabakov Read From the Penultimate Chapter of Lolita (openculture.com)
- Good ol’ London Town (infernalimagination.wordpress.com)
- Reading Lolita 55 Years On (mangosalute.com)
- It’s a Creepy Stand-Off! Humbert Humbert Vs The Daily Mail (vagendamag.blogspot.com)
- Maxim D. Shrayer on Vladimir Nabokov (3quarksdaily.com)