What can be added to a book that is over 50 years old? What new insight, Easter eggs, subtext or discussion could matter? Very little, I would presume, so I’m just going to go over the book and give my opinion on what I took away and if it is worth the time to read.
Lolita see protagonist Humbert Humbert, who has suffered a grave childhood trauma of losing his first love come upon a family of two in the 1940’s. Humbert is instantly smitten with young Delores Haze, who he affectionately refers to as Lolita. Humbert is unable to woo his would be child lover into his arms in the beginning, so he marries the sexually aggressive mother, just to stay close to Lolita. One day, the mom gets struck by a car and H.H. decides he and Lolita are to take a road trip, where they would make dozen of stops, as a May-December version of Bonnie and Clyde, but with less tommy guns and more sexual deviance. One day, while hospitalized, Lolita is kidnapped by a man who had been following them and H.H. spends the next several years attempting to track her down. In the end, a message from Lolita and her new husband, that allows for the reconnection between her and H.H. and the resulting down fall of our protagonist, whom cannot handle having lost his beloved.
Ultimately, Lolita is a “serious comedy” if you will and funny, even to those who won’t get the references and Easter eggs the Nabokov left within the text. I have never read any of the romances for which the book parodies, but I could help but laugh out loud at the right times. The fact that young man such as myself, can pick up on the humor, being 31 years removed from the publication date and still laugh out loud, is the hallmark of a brilliant writer.
The prose is fantastic and very vivid, for a guy who wasn’t a native English speaker, he really, really understood how to woo us with the beautiful word choices and evocative imagery. There are natives of the language that can barely utilize English to craft a book report, let alone an entire novel and do it so well, that one has to wonder about their own prose and if they’re using their native tongue to its fullest. Nabokov really seems to love English and it shows.
The characters is where we run into a slight bit of trouble, but not too much. Lolita is barley developed, no pun intended. She has no internal monologue in regards to the adventure these two are one, this isn’t a new criticism but a valid truth hood. Would it have suffered to give her an internal monologue? No, because there is enough exposition to let us be aware what she is thinking. Albeit, internal discussion for the character in regards to a development of Stockholm syndrome, may have made the poignancy of her kidnapping a tad bit more shocking and sad to the reader.
Humbert is the narrator and unreliable at that. He is charming, witty, well read and ultimately a lovable protagonist when he should be reviled for his sickness. This is great character development, since writing likable characters requires a flaw they possess in order to make them enjoyable, just as the villain must have a likable trait to make him less than one dimensional. There can be no greater flaw than pedophilia and the fatal attraction between H.H. and his love interest.
With the exception of Cue Quilty, whom needed far more development than he had so the ending resolution would carry far more gravitas than it ultimately did.
The rest of the characters were merely background.
We shouldn’t like Humbert, but we do. The interesting character arch from pedophile to actual dad has got to be the most unqiue arch in history. His liveliness draws us and takes hold as we become party to sexual assault. The beautiful prose is used to merely cover up the indecency of an adult man having kidnapped and forced Lolita into a life of running and rape at every motel and hotel they could afford and would have lasted until Humbert was done with her. The down ending is really an upbeat one, as Lolita has managed to escape her past to an extent, but since Humbert is writing this as memoir, she will never truly be able to escape it, always looming over her, like a black cloud. Not long after getting away from Humbert, she starts to already exhibit some symptoms of PTSD and for something that wasn’t as well known in the post-World War Two era, it is shocking how Nabokov could understand it so well and enhance his work with it. No to mention that little was known on Pedophiles and yet, he created the grandest of profiles on exactly how a lot of Humberts ilk are. This is FBI profiling in prose form and excellent at that. It should be taught in those courses, if it isn’t. The fact that it was decades ahead of people who analyzed criminals for a living is a testament to the genius of Nabokov. You are better off for having read this book than you would be by advoiding it, the fact that it has survived over 50 years is widely read is very telling. Nabokov is ultimately the Shakesphre of his time period, with only a fistful of others living up to such a moniker. Five out of Five stars!