Thursday, July 3, 2008

Lolita

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.

10 comments:

____Maggie said...

Humbert blames his problem on the initial girl on the beach when he is in his youth and quite appropriate, but I think it is a cop out. I was in a room of nothing but men and they seemed less concerned w/ Dolly and more with the bumblness of Humbert. They all seemed to think she wanted what happened and continued to go along b/c she liked it! Yuck!

Yes, to have Dolly's side would have given readers a rounder more fulfilling story, but what would the men have to say after her not so Humbert pleasing rants.

Lisa said...

maggie, I do remember now about the girl when he was young, but like you I just don't buy it. All we get is Humbert's interpretation of Dolly's actions and words. He does make it SEEM as if she doesn't mind. But, he can't be considered a reliable narrator in my book. I think Dolly is simply trying to survive the best way she knows how.

Ti said...

I came across your blog while reading another blog. Did you happen to see the movie version with Shelly Winters? I read the book first, then saw the movie and it made a bit more sense to me. Lolita is very mature for her years.. mature and manipulative. After seeing the movie.. I re-read the book and it seemed as if their relationship was more a two-way street than a one-sided one.

To this day..it's one of my favorite book discussion books.

Lisa said...

ti, No I haven't seen the movie version. I can definitely see how this can be a very good book for discussion. I also understand what you mean about her being mature and manipulative. That's the way it seems in the book, but it's still disturbing because he's supposed to be the adult.

Nymeth said...

I wanted to know more about Lolita too...I wonder if one day someone will be brave enough to try and retell the story from her perspective. It would definitely make for an interesting book.

BooksPlease said...

I've wondered about this book before and after reading your review I don't think I'll read it, although I can see it would be a good book to discuss. I think it would annoy me too much.

Eloise said...

The film is excellent (Kubrick directed, James Mason, whom I adore, as Humbert) but Dolly is an older girl in it than in the book.
I found this a disturbing book too, mainly because of how easy it is to get caught up in Humbert's view but Nabokov every now and again adds a small description of something she does, like blow a bubblegum bubble, that makes you remember that she is a child. After reading this I had to read Bill Bryson as I wanted something that would be purely nice. Did you feel the same?

Lisa said...

nymeth, that would definitely be a challenge for some author. But, I would like to read a book with Dolly as the narrator.

booksplease, this book is hard to describe. The subject matter is disturbing to say the least, but Nabokov writes in such a way that I could deal with it. Through Humbert's eyes, Dolly is mature and manipulative and quasi consensual. But, when you stop and think about it, you know she has to be disgusted and scared and confused.

eloise, you hit the nail on the head. The way Navokov writes, it's easy to forget that she is indeed a child. Yes, I did feel the need to read something totally different after Lolita. Since then I've read Dyer Consequences -- a knitting mystery (very light reading, but fun) and Water for Elephants, which was really good.

Andi said...

This is one of those books I loved for the great writing and masterful art of it, but I always feel weird saying, Oh I loved that book about the pedophile! Great review, and I'm glad you found this one thought provoking. If you decide to read more Nabokov, I can recommend his novella, Pnin. It's really funny and tragic at the same time.

Lisa said...

andi, I guess you can tell I struggled with how to review this book. I certainly didn't want to make it sound as if I agreed with the subject matter. But, it was incredibly well-written, and I did enjoy reading it. However, I can see how some people would have a hard time reading it. Hope everything is going well for you!