Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Lolita by Vladimir Nabukov

No plot summary needed because I think most people are well acquainted with this particular story. I read this book as my choice for the “Banned or Censored Classic” for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at the blog Books and Chocolate. This book was banned in the UK  and in France, in the late 1950s although it was eventually published in both countries. I can’t find any Internet evidence, however, that it was banned in the U.S. at all which really surprised me, given that Forever Amber was banned less than 10 years earlier and having read both, I would say that Lolita is more explicit and much, much more disturbing.

I read Reading Lolita in Teheran a few years ago. Probably mostly because the title alludes to it, but I specifically recall  Azar Nafisi’s deconstruction of this novel.  In particular she elucidated on how Humbert Humbert not only physically imprisons Delores, but how he denies her her own existence outside of himself figuratively and metaphorically as well. This is something I thought a lot about as I read Lolita.    

 I know that Nabokov is revered for his writing but I wasn’t really able to appreciate it as such. I realize there is a lot that I missed; references to other works, etc. But even if I could unequivocally state that this was the best written novel ever, it is, in my opinion, a very unpleasant story and no amount of Humbert Humbert's charm can deflect from that.  There are a few books that I have read where I am sure that I would have appreciated them more when I was younger, but this is a book that I am glad I read when I was older and somewhat wiser. I don’t know if I would have been able to see past some of the roadblocks that Humbert puts up had I been a younger and more naïve reader.

I don’t know what Nabokov’s intent was when writing this book, but clearly publishers and the public at large have also been seduced by Humbert Humbert. Just look at the freaking cover art for most of the editions of it (thankfully mine published by Everyman’s Library only has a photo of the author); why is Delores objectified again and again? Why do we use the term culturally “Lolita” to mean a “nymphette” as defined by Humbert? These facts are as disturbing as the book itself.