by Vladimir Nabokov
“You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style” (chap 1, para 3).
The synopsis on the back of my copy calls the novel, “Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humber’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze.” Isn’t that beautiful? Sounds like a quintessential Romance novel. It manages not to use the terms phedophilia, rape, abduction, and “creep in the park who is rubbing himself on your daughter”… and other contemporary terms we use when this type of “love affair” happens in reality.
Apparently, according to the back cover of the same book, a Time magazine reviewer called it, “Intensely lyrical and wildly funny.” I think I missed the wildly funny part. Where was that? Okay, I did chuckle at some of his prickly observations of American culture. But what else is funny about it?
But I love the book. I suppose I have to admit my grimacing interest in (concern for?) the despicable pursuit, and my outrage at the abuse. I certainly enjoyed the scraps of triumph as the growing, petulant Dolores drives the sleazebag to madness. How many times did I wish the bastard hit by a car, kicked in the groin, walked in on by a hotel employee. Alas, the pedophile has his way again and again, knowingly destroying that whom he professes to love.
I suppose I object to all the reviewers, academics and publishers of this novel who call it a love affair, or love of any type but the grossest kind of solipsistic self-love. And I think Nabokov would agree that too many readers have fallen for Humbert’s greasy charms. It should be no surprise, though, as we have all heard someone argue the “she seduced me!” defense (hopefully in reference to someone of a compatible age!). See, so many of us are already prone to accepting this rationalization from men. We are half way to believing Humbert before he speaks. Lionel Trilling says that we then, “find ourselves the more shocked when we realize that, in the course of reading the novel, we have come virtually to condone the violation it presents … we have been seduced into conniving the violation, because we have permitted our fantasies to accept what we know to be revolting.” As readers, we are implicated in the crime.
But I love the book. I love it. As a reader I am captivated; as a writer I am humbled. It contains some of the richest, emphatic language I’ve read to date. Nabokov said it is, in part, about his “love affair with the English language” (Nabokov’s essay, “On a Book Entitled Lolita,” which is appended to my edition). I can’t say enough about his incredible lyrical style. It amazes me to think the Russian is his first language. English wasn’t even his second. There is a poetry to his writing that is moving, powerful. I will certainly read other Nabokov works in search of it. Partly with the hope that it doesn’t only reside in the voice of a pedophile!
Great book. I recommend it to anyone who 1) is old enough to understand that Dolores is not to blame for Humbert’s sickness (the narrator is quite slick with word play: puns, double entendre, and the outright lie) and 2) is not a victim of the Humberts of the world.