Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

I realize this post is a day late. I apologize for that! Work has been crazy and Kevin is out of town and, while you think that would lead to more punctual blogging, I've been either too exhausted or too busy being productive around the house.  C'est la vie.

I cannot say this particular entry on the 100 Best Novels list was one I was highly anticipating. In fact, basically the opposite was true.

I knew the basic gist of the story: stepfather of orphaned child becomes lover of orphaned child. Stepfather, Humbert Humbert, is narrator, so he portrays himself in the best light possible, but it's not hard to read between the lines here. Lolita is a story of child abuse.

You can talk all day long about how modern society has made us desensitized to important issues like violence and sexuality. I tend to agree; I brush all kinds of things off that I probably shouldn't. This issue, however, is one that simply cannot be brushed aside. It's hard to swallow in any form, even told from the abuser's perspective.

Of course, Vladimir Nabokov had no illusions of Humbert's heroism. The whole book is an exercise in truth.  As the discussion questions in the back of my copy said, "What is in doubt is how much of Humbert's version of these events - and how much of Humbert himself - we can believe."

Humbert is clearly a liar and a scumbag. There is no doubting that. His deceptions and evils extend beyond his relationship with his stepdaughter, Dolly, who he calls Lolita. He sees only his own needs and desires and stops at nothing to achieve them.  I did not find it difficult to remind myself that Humbert is the bad guy, despite his attempts to convince otherwise.

In the midst of all the evil, I do see why the book is so highly rated.  Nabokov created a sickening world where he pulls your acceptance of truth all over the place.  It becomes difficult to determine when Humbert, as narrator, is giving you facts, when he is embellishing facts, and when he is flat out lying. Navokov drops hints throughout the story; the light shines through little cracks in Humbert's lies. Nabokov is definitely a great writer.

Even still, I understand why we didn't have a Lolita unit in my high school English classes.  The content just made me queezy and it's simply too much to be handing to hormone-laden teenagers. I'm not a fan of censorship, just of judicious timing.

I am quite glad to cross this one off the list. I can say with confidence that there will be no Movie Monday installation for Lolita. There are film adaptations, but I'll let you judge them on your own. The book was plenty for me.

On the other hand, reading the book really made me want to go reread Reading Lolita in Tehran. The memoir of an Iraqi literature professor was one of my absolute favorites last year. Azar Nafisi uses Lolita as a metaphor for the oppression of women in Iraq. I caught most of the nuance last year; she did a good job explaining for anyone who had not yet read Nabokov's classic. I think a second reading, now that I have seen the full picture of Lolita, would render even more understanding.  Plus, the book was amazing. Seriously - go read it.

I can say that I am happy to have a better cultural understanding of Nabokov's classic work. I cannot say, however, that I will ever pick it up again. You can think me too sensitive, but, as I said above, I just don't think child abuse is ever something we should be able to brush aside. In fact, I think Lolita proves my point in a lot of ways. Nabokov obviously understands the horror of her situation. He also expects the reader to not take the story at face value. If you are going to pick up Lolita on your own, my strongest suggestion is to do so without any trust in your narrator.

Pages: 378
Date Completed: October 21, 2013

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