Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

As you can see from the title, this post is going to be a book review of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. This was one of the books on my December TBR, and I have to say that I have mixed reviews about it. For anyone that hasn’t read the book, this review will contain some slight spoilers. They aren’t big spoilers that will ruin the enjoyment of the book if you find them out, but spoilers none the less. I would also warn that this book is about a paedophile who falls in love with a 12-year-old, so if this is something you’re not comfortable reading then I would click off this review.

As a lover of Russian authors, I find it very interesting that there is a difference in writing between those authors born and raised in Russia, and those Russian but spent large parts of their life in different countries. For example, Nabokov was born and spent his youth in Saint Petersburg, but then after the First World War, his family emigrated to Western Europe. He was enrolled in Trinity College, Cambridge and was trilingual from a young age (English, French and Russian). After spending some time in Berlin, Nabokov and his family fled from the German rule in 1940 to the United States. Nabokov, like all of us, is inherently a product of his surroundings. To me, Nabokov’s work has a different feeling than say that of Tolstoy’s. This is something I might explore in a later blog post, but I was curious if anyone else had the same feelings.

Lolita is a book written in the first person from the protagonist Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged teacher who has a fetish for young girls. His main conquest is a 12-year-old girl, Dolores Haze, with whom he falls in love and ends up engaging in a sexual relationship. His nickname for her, Lolita, is (obviously) the title of the book. In the early stages of the book, Humbert is wary of pursuing her for fear of being found out by Lolita’s mother from who he is renting a room. The mother eventually falls in love with Humbert, unknowing to his fetish. In her world, I think she cannot imagine that she would welcome into her own home, much less fall in love with, someone who was fantasising about her young daughter. After some events occur which enables Humbert to essentially have unfiltered access to Lolita, the novel progresses into following their life together over many years. The ending itself is not unexpected as the reader can guess that it goes one of two ways, either Lolita grows of age and continues in her affections for Humbert, or the pair parted ways permanently. There is one slight unexpected scene in the book, but I am not going to spoil that for you.

I had some trepidations when reading this book. Although it’s a renowned classic that I have heard mentioned by countless people, the actual theme of the book is something to be wary of. I didn’t know how comfortable I would feel reading about the sexual advances of a grown male onto a child. The book was written in 1955, but I can’t imagine that the sentiments towards paedophilia would be that different from what they are now. Apparently, from the late 1950s to the early 1990s, several paedophile membership organisations were advocating for the age of consent laws to be lowered or abolished, as well as for the legalisation of child pornography. They also wanted paedophilia to be considered as a sexual orientation rather than a psychological disorder. Thankfully this was met by the majority with disdain and these groups now mainly cease to exist. This does lead to my bigger query though of whether there should be some topics that are taboo to write about, or whether that inherently defies the freedom of speech that people are so keen to mention nowadays. Having taboo topics leads to problems like who makes the rules and decides what subject is taboo or not? Would a book like Lolita even be picked up to be published by mainstream Publishing houses? One disturbing thing I did come across was that the Guardian had written a review of this book and included it in its Children Books section. Unfortunately, the Guardian doesn’t have a comment section and so I was unable to see if anyone else found this as strange as I did.

Overall, if you’re not faint-hearted and like Russian literature then it’s possible to enjoy this book on its linguistic merits and writing style rather than on the actual subject.

Until next time,
-S

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