Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. – Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita)Lolita. Where do I even begin talking about this book? Every time I try to come up with a witty anecdote to start this post, I get stumped. Lolita continues to evade my understanding.
Set in the late 1940s to the early 1950s, the novel begins when Humbert Humbert, a Frenchman beset by misfortunes and dogged by unhappiness, decides to relocate to America. He stays at the home of Mrs. Haze where he meets her daughter, Dolores Haze or Lolita. To become closer to Lolita, Humbert marries Mrs. Haze. Tragedy strikes, and the rest, they say, is history.
I was actually very hesitant to read this book because a) the subject matter is very sensitive and b) I’m a huge sissy. When I started reading, though, I was surprised when I couldn’t put it down. Nabokov’s prose is beautifully-written with lush descriptions of Humbert Humbert’s travels with Lolita, and of Lolita herself. I was even more surprised when Lolita made me laugh. Nabokov’s dark humor is sprinkled all over the book, and I’m glad to say Lolita doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The characters, however, are an entirely different story. I still haven’t made up my mind about Humbert Humbert. He kept trying to convince me, the reader, that he was innocent, a mere mortal man unable to resist the wiles of a beautiful nymphet. Once in a while, I found myself almost believing him, and I became irritated with myself. Humbert Humbert was charming, humorous, and ultimately a monster. His greatest mistake is his attempting to fool the reader into forgetting, for even a moment, the monstrosity of his actions.
I didn’t like Lolita either. Maybe because Humbert Humbert, the narrator, portrayed himself as the victim. Maybe because Lolita really was manipulative, and not the abused and exploited girl I first supposed her to be. In the end, though, I felt sorry for her, because it became clear that she didn’t have a choice. She was stuck between a rock and a hard place, as the cliché goes.
Despite its sensitive subject matter, I’m pretty surprised that Lolita became so controversial. Nabokov clearly depicts the evils of pedophilia. To sum up this five-star novel, I want to say something poetic, something worthy, but the words are still eluding me. I have a feeling that weeks from now, months even, I will still be thinking about and deciphering the puzzle that is Lolita.