Thoughts on: Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)

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Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita was not a light read, rather, it is the kind of book that touches your soul and makes you question the ways that other people see the world. Undoubtedly controversial, the novel encapsulates the twisted relationship between young Dolores and a much older man, Humbert Humbert.

While Humbert’s manipulative charm and egotistical nature barely compare to his heinous crimes including rape and murder, Nabokov presents the world through the complex lens of a villain. In truth, reading Lolita was like watching the world through the eyes of an outsider, a human that it not truly all there, and yet very much at the corners of society. Humbert wears his mask of normality exceptionally well. He relies on his powers of deception arguably to the point that he deceives himself, above all else, causing the reader to question everything about his perception of his step-daughter.

“She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”

Without a doubt, Humbert is cold, manipulative and calculating. Humbert continuously victimises himself, dehumanising Lolita as simply a “nymphette” who sadistically seduces him. Even in the aftermath at the end of the novel, Humbert is still incapable of fully accepting the brutality of his actions and their consequences for Lolita. Like an innate disease, his self-pity escalates until he begs for Lolita to cross the final yards into his car and die with him.

It is as if Humbert is aware that he is only chasing a dream, and despite the inevitable fact their relationship will end eventually, he clings onto it the best he can. In the end, Humbert was not looking for Lolita’s love – he wanted her loyalty. He wanted to chase a dream.

“He broke my heart. You merely broke my life.”  

His hatred for Clare is of course, ironic, considering that Clare was Humbert’s darker shadow in the novel and committed the same crime. However, Clare never pretended to view his relationship with Lolita as anything more than it was; Clare had the ability to distance himself from the situation which Humbert envies. Even somebody as eloquently spoken as our narrator can be reduced to a man as shady as Clare, no matter how Humbert tries to distinguish himself as superior to his crimes. Therefore, Humbert’s motives include blaming Clare for taking his dream away and shattering it forever, no more is Dolores young or vulnerable enough to resume his dream. Essentially, Humbert would probably consider himself a tragic hero.

Nabokov’s language games are break-taking and entirely worthy of the making the book a classic. In fact, I would encourage this book to be read for its lyrical use of language alone. Nabokov masterfully blends Humbert’s self-inflicted pain and Lolita’s suffering through the absence of her voice.

Ultimately, I doubt that Humbert was trying to convince his readers or the jury of his lack of free will that lead him to his crimes. Instead, he was attempting and failing to convince himself that his actions were unpreventable and for a cause of love and not unprecedented selfishness.

My favourite extract:

“And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.” (the final line.)

VERDICT: 5 STARS

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