Book Talk

I just finished reading “Lolita”, which I found truly disturbing.

It was particularly interesting because much of the criticism I’d heard about the book before was that it wasn’t an issue of pedophilia, it was a matter of every character (or every major character) in the book being somehow unlikable and bringing destruction on him or herself. This wasn’t my impression on reading it, however.

I found it to be a book dedicated to reflecting the complexities of relationships and characters. I found the narrator to be totally and completely terrible, a ‘villain’ in a book otherwise full of ambiguity and complexity… The complication here is that, by the end of the book it’s clear that he’s so filled with self loathing that he (the character, not the author) deliberately presented himself as a villain. The complexity, at least was preserved. The mother, doomed as she was, was certainly not easy to like, yet there was enough there to make it clear where she was coming from. Her troubled relationship with her daughter started shortly after birth, something which might have seemed incomprehensible in the 1950’s when it was published, but which today I find myself immediately diagnosing as her having had a case of postpartum depression which kept her from bonding with little Dolores. It’s sad, and certainly it makes it harder to sympathize with Charlotte, but it’s possible to understand her.

As for Dolores, ‘Lolita’ herself, I never found her that unlikable. Actually, before Humbert picked her up from camp I saw her as a somewhat bratty pre-teen, but very much within the range of ‘normal’, not too badly adjusted considering her family situation. Her deceitfulness and moodiness later in the book seemed comprehensible reactions to the sexual slavery Humbert inflicted on her. Only her actions on that first morning together didn’t make sense… They didn’t make her any less sympathetic, they just didn’t make sense, even after she revealed her previous sexual experimentation. I speculated that it was Nabokov’s way to ‘justify’ her death in the end, that, somehow, on some level, she shared the guilt for her own destruction. That didn’t seem to fit either. The end, of course, where her ‘relationship’ with Clare was revealed, cleared things up somewhat. She had been messed up for years before she even met Humbert. I’m not sure that she’s ‘likable’, but her unpleasantness seems to me to be the result, not the cause, of her experiences. It seems to me that people who are raising in unloving and abusive situations are often messed up. As far as Lolita ‘seducing’ Humbert, I can’t buy it. There’s a reason for statutory rape laws, and this scene, taken in context, pretty clearly illustrates it.

It’s obvious from Humbert’s own musings that Nabokov wanted this book looked at from a variety of angles, including psychoanalysis of the characters, even as he dismisses it in Humbert’s musings. I don’t know enough about Freudian expectations (Humbert’s own childhood) to know if what he describes reflects the theories of the day, but most of the book works well with my own understanding of psychology for almost everything. Ironically, Humbert’s sexuality is the one thing which doesn’t seem to fit.

It was interesting, and beautifully written, and had depth. It was also among the scariest things I’ve ever read, but that may be because I have two children.


3 Responses

  1. I guess wordpress is hard to insert spoiler warnings in as well. I have always wondered about the boo, but knew I woudln’t have any free time in the foreseeable future to read it. Your synopsis did help me there, but I can’t help but wonder about those that might cry “SPOILER!”

  2. While obviously not everyone has read the book, it does seem rather odd to refer to any review/synopsis of a 40? 50? year old book as a spoiler.

  3. @starfyr: Written in 1955, so, 53 years old.

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