Anytime I mentioned that I’d never read Vladimir Nabokov’s iconic and controversial classic, Lolita, I get gasps of amazement. Apparently, it’s one of those you-have-to-read-it-for-bragging-rights kind of books. So I decided it was high time to read it.
I don’t want to give anything away for those of you who have not read the book but intend to at some point. But here’s the basic premise: Humbert Humbert is a European, having put behind a marriage and an academic career. His obsession with nymphets, girls of about 12-15, begins when he is 13 and in love with a young woman. After that relationship fails to meet its full potential, he spends his life seeking to fulfill that quest. On a trip to the United States, he meets Dolores Haze, the daughter of his widowed landlady, Charlotte Haze. This chance encounter with Dolores, whom he promptly deems a nymphet and nicknames Lolita, will dictate the rest of his life. Lolita is a novel of passion and deviancy, of language, of unfulfilled love, and of deep-seated longing.
After reading the novel, I find myself struggling with what to say about it in the end. Since I knew that the sexualization of a young girl occurred, I did not find myself surprised by the more unsavory parts of the story, particularly Humbert’s pedophilia. I did not like it, but I did not close my mind to the novel because those details were in there. But nor did I find myself with the innumerable language games and wordplay that Nabokov invoked all.the.time. I think it comes down to a matter of personal taste, and my personal taste is not necessarily the beauty of the language. Good writing is important, yes (ahem, E.L. James), but I don’t know that the language and allusions and slippage of references were the reason I’d recommend this novel.
In the end, Lolita felt like a Novel All English Majors Must Like, and in the end, I was underwhelmed by the unevenness of it. Alas.