The story follows the written diary confessions of Humbert Humbert (H.H.): a thirty-seven-year-old man who falls in love with Lolita, a twelve-year-old girl. The reader gains access to H.H.’s thoughts during the tumultuous events that take place as his lust, obsession and imagination get the better of him.
Warning: spoilers ahead
My rating: 4.5/5
When starting this novel it provides a pull, engaging the readers curiosity. Nabokov has a way with words that is rare to come by in contemporary literature. He writes fluidly and cryptically, leaving hints and clues along the way that only some readers will discover if they know what to look for. I found this an enjoyable element throughout, however some passages I definitely need to go back over to gain a fresh insight to its meaning.
The basis of this story is terrifyingly beautiful. Nabokov finds the balance of outlining the crucial facts for the readers whilst being careful with his language choices to not offend or insult. He asks the reader to be open-minded but also understand the disturbing severity of child molestation. Nabokov’s writing is truly something else; to write with such skill – that is where the brilliant literature comes from.
The reader gains a closer look into the mind of Humbert Humbert (H. H). The words that disturbed me most were his descriptive fantasies of Lolita in a sexual nature, and later his repetitive physical advances on her. The line is crossed beyond any amount to count with him, whether that be within his imagination or in reality. It is perverse and uncomfortable to read.
The further along you go, the more you get to know H.H. At the core, he is repulsive; yet he is funny, witty and exaggerates every part of his life. A key element to understand throughout is his destructive nature upon others. Ultimately, H.H. completely ruins Lolita’s childhood and young adult life:
“I still was under the impression that whatever went on among those brash brats, went on at a later age, and in a different environment … the moralist in me by-passed the issue by clinging to conventional notions of what twelve-year-old girls should be.”
This passage fascinates me. I see Nabokov highlighting how a Paedophile thinks and fantasises about children. H.H. never considers ethics or morals, he simply creates lucrative assumptions to justify sexualising Lolita. He presumes girls of that age are sexual deviants “asking for it”, when in reality it is sexual assault through power play and manipulation on H.H.’s part. Nabokov draws the readers attention to this whilst showing how and why H.H. came to this point in his mind:
“I should have known (by the signs made to me by something in Lolita – the real child Lolita or some haggard angel behind her back) that nothing but pain and horror would result from the expected rapture.”
Nabokov drones into the reader that H.H. should have used his moral obligations in this situation, but his Paedophile nature encouraged him to see Lolita only as sexualised and someone who wanted this. His urges and obsession take over, ignoring the pain and suffering he inflicts on Lolita. H.H. claims multiple times his “love” for her: in his mind this “love” justifies why he assaults and entraps her.
The most bizarre of twists occur in the second half of the novel. Nabokov looks at the concept of a Paedophile normalising certain behaviours; the journey Humbert and Lolita take together and the way they co-habitate as legal guardian and child.
When the novel’s final page turned, I felt such sadness for Lolita. Her life continued to go downhill from the abuse and trauma H.H. inflicted upon her for his own selfish reasons and obsessions. She didn’t have a stable upbringing, nor was she shown what a safe and loving home is. As an adult and guardian responsible for her well-being, Humbert took advantage of her and the “convenient” situation he orchestrated. He took away Lolita’s freedom: abusing his rights to satisfy his perverse desires.
Nabokov is a truly fantastic writer – he captures literary fiction brilliantly. There is a creative blend of humour, wit, charm and disgrace that this novel provides. I highly recommend this novel and would definitely read it again. Nabokov’s work is beyond intricate that you may need to read this a couple of times to fully grasp and understand every discreet line or scene.