No one should read this book. For anyone to tender just one moment reading what is part memoir, part defence of a murderous pedophile, should really question their own morals. So why is Nabokov’s tale about Humbert Humbert, self professed pervert who seduces his wife’s twelve year old daughter, so enduring and revered? Simple. It’s not the beauty of the relationship offered, but of the words written, proving that done well, any story, however awful, debauched and lurid can elevate it to something quite unique. Sure, there are moments you wish to drag your eyes from the text, and question why it is you continue to turn the pages, but Nabokov’s ability to sew within the fabric of this filthy yarn such humour you can’t help but smirk, and such eloquent prose it renders you light headed, is what drives you forward. Too, there is nothing within the text that is overtly gratuitous, something that perhaps handled by a less adroit writer would have resulted in the manuscript being condemned by all and sundry. In truth, moments of tenderness, of love, is subtle in its execution. And so what on the surface of it is a bizarre narrative of a dirty old man grooming a nymphet, becomes more a story of obsession.
That society and law cannot condone such a relationship is the strain needed to build jealously and paranoia in the story. Lolita, Dorthy, Dot, or her many other names, while complicit in the reality of their relationship, is still a girl of twelve, and as such wishes to live, to frolic, to eat ice cream and engage in idle chitchat with boys of a similar age, and it’s this gulf of immaturity that eventually proves to be the catalyst to their demise. You are pulled, sometimes kicking and screaming, into Humbert’s mind and thought process, and for him this sickness for young girls is driven by aesthetics only, so as Lolita exercises her want to be young, so the seams that bind their partnership begin to tear. It is Greek in tragedy and biblical in inequity so it comes as no surprise that a book of this ilk ends in death, but who’s is down for you to find out.
It is not a book you should read. It not a story that should be celebrated. And yet, for those who love the written word, it’s hard not to enjoy Lolita for the simple reason that however weird the world we are presented, or however wrong the subject matter, there are somethings that when done well can leave us spellbound.