Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Publication Date: My edition 2006 (originally 1955)
Pages: 368 pages
Why did I choose to read this book? I went to an Everyman cinema to see 20,000 Days on Earth and Nick Cave alluded to this book being one that his father had given him when he was younger, his descriptions detailing his reaction to reading the book piqued my interest.
Refreshments: Alcohol and a lot of it – I opted for a straight and strong Gin Martini or five.
Poet and pervert, Humbert Humbert becomes obsessed by twelve-year-old Lolita and seeks to possess her, first carnally and then artistically, out of love, ‘to fix once for all the perilous magic of nymphets’. Is he in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster? Or is he all of these?
Humbert Humbert is the most colourful and skilfully developed character I have come across in a work of fiction in all my years of reading. He is deliciously addictive with Nabokov’s outrageous and darkly humorous narrative never missing a beat. The descriptive prose is beautiful and starkly honest – at times you’re lulled into a false sense of security, especially during the cross-country car journeys, only to be slapped to attention with something so shocking and wickedly funny – the subject matter being what it is I found myself feeling slightly ashamed for finding it so devilishly entertaining.
Humbert is a completely unreliable narrator and suffers serious self-delusion his exhaustively demanding need for sympathy make many of his statements suspect -which is probably why his Lolita, Doris, nymph, nymphette whatever you want to call her, is depicted as the ultimate seductress and entirely dislikable throughout the book.
We see Lolita only through Humber Humbert’s eyes and she is often remarked as having skinny arms, freckles, vulgar language, and unladylike behaviour. Her stubborn nature is because she is a child, her eagerness and enjoyment in popular culture is again down her youth and American society of the time, however, for Humbert these are causes for grave disappointment and argument in favour of his treatment of her. Lolita changes radically throughout the novel, despite ageing only about six years and thanks to a far from normal childhood she doesn’t improve in personality – she will forever be a nymphette.
The book can be quite dense at time and it takes a keen attention to detail to follow the plot lines and keep track of Humbert Humbert and Lolita’s relationship. As the book was coming to it’s conclusion I did have to flick back to figure out some specific details surrounding the characters connections – but this might be down to tiredness rather than anything else!
Finally, I don’t often read an afterword by an author or translator, however, I was stuck on a bus and no pages of story left so this time I took it as a much-needed distraction. My advice – READ IT- it’s amusing and gives such a refreshing insight into the mind of an author and his reaction to critics. Nabokov will now and forever be on my dream dinner guest list.
Rating: 8 out of 10 – completely disturbing