I read this book for The Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge while on vacation last week. This was my first book by Nabokov or any Russian author for that matter. I was really excited to read it because I know how often this book has been banned and/or challenged over the years. I loathe censorship in any form and celebrate the freedom to read. So, I couldn't wait to see what all the fuss was about. The book is well-written but deals with an extremely disturbing subject matter.
The story involves a man who is a self-proclaimed pedophile (though he doesn't use the word). The story is told from his point of view, and the reader gets to see how he attempts to fight his demons. He knows what he's feeling and doing is wrong, but he doesn't seem to be able to stop himself. He ends up marrying a widow just so he can be near her young daughter -- I think she's 11 or 12 when he first comes on the scene. This is the Lolita of the title (her actual name is Dolores Haze). The young girl is rebellious and curious, and Humbert quickly takes advantage of the situation. After a freak accident that kills her mother, he assumes responsibility for her. Afraid that someone else will step in to take guardianship, he flees with Lolita and spends the next couple years traveling back and forth across the country. He has sex with her on a regular basis. He keeps her quiet through bribes of clothes and threats of being sent to a reformatory school. It's hard to imagine why she doesn't run away before she does, but she's a child who has just lost her mother and doesn't know where to turn for help.
The book left me with questions. I want to know more about Dolly (Lolita). We only get to hear from her through Humbert. I want to know what she's really thinking and feeling. I also want to know more about Humbert as a child growing up. What makes a person this way? Is there some kind of chemical imbalance in his brain? Was he sexually abused as a child? Nabokov writes in a very matter-of-fact way. Humbert is who he is, and he doesn't try to make excuses for him. This is a well-written book, but it's probably not for everyone.