- Title: Lolita — what a pretty name! It would be a shame if it got... soiled. - Nature: Book (novel) — what people used to read on before tablets, remember? - Genre: Fiction, classics — and thank God! it's a work of fiction. - Length: 352 pages — roughly four months of reading for slowpokes like me.
What it is all about
For the first time I review a book, my choosing Vladimir Nabokov‘s Lolita (1955) might come to you as one hell of a ballsy move. And that is totally the case, so let’s just get right into it… with no pressure at all.
The novel bears the name of the female protagonist Lolita, but really, the whole thing is more about Humbert Humbert (aka H.H., the one and only). A young girl and a handsome man from the other continent cross paths and get to spend time together… you get it, this means romance. The only thing is that the girl isn’t just young, she’s outright a child, and the man loves youthful ones a little too much. What do you mean, ‘this is a problem’? Not for Nabokov. This dude knows no limits, yo! So brace yourself and let H.H. tell you all about his encounter with his favorite nymphet, and his burning passion for her. Don’t get me wrong, the style might be exquisite and the humor irresistible, the topic is still unbearable.
What makes it so awful, and yet so damn good!
The sexualization of the little girl into a woman
If you have ever heard of Lolita, I am willing to bet it was in a discussion either about the canons of literature, or about pedophilia. If you haven’t, let me tell you about it myself. This novel would have been almost a regular one — although edgy, ever so slightly — had it not revolved around a little girl. I like to think that it would have retained all of its quality and pertinence, but at the same time, it might be the taboo that makes it so unique… for so intolerable at times.
“Why does the way she walks — a child, mind you, a mere child — excite me so abominably?”
Boom. Now you know what I’m talking about. Please note that this is not the only cringe-worthy sentence of the kind. Never have I read anything that came close to this novel as far as lust is concerned. I would consider going so far as to call this account of love for a girl child the epitome of lust. Forgive me but my own sense of decency forbids me to go into further details. Let’s do maths instead. People tend to have desires that match their age — you know the rule of the /2+7, right? Being 36, our infamous pervert’s date should be 36/2+7=25 years old for their love not to be creepy — but this lovely gentleman does not seem to care one bit. He loves nymphets, you see?
“Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who […] reveal their true nature which is not human but nymph (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as ‘nymphets.'”
“The body of some immortal daemon disguised as a female child.”
Sexual, yet so casual
As you know, the novel consists in H.H. telling the story… with his words. In the end, you are the one who ends up feeling ill at ease. He, on the other hand, just enjoys the show. Hey, let’s play the game of synonyms! Embarrassment, malaise, unease, awkwardness… Congratulations, you just learned what you will get from reading Humbert Humbert! You’ll love screaming ‘TMI’ — too much information — every now and then, I assure you.
Do not fret, the style is all about not saying much so that you can imagine the rest. Oh, no, this wasn’t supposed to soothe your apprehension, quite the contrary. Actually, doing so makes it even worse, as you get to see all the atrocities involving a twelve-year-old you’re capable of picturing. And trust me, that’s unsettling. You won’t find any inappropriate four-letter words in there, nor any graphic sex scene. What I am trying to tell you is that the most distressing thing isn’t the content, but how it is delivered. What is worse than saying something atrocious? Saying it casually. And this casualness is to be found a lot:
- When he uses words such as “aging mistress” or “slave girl child”. Refined.
- When he ‘whips the willy’ — masturbates — using the girl without her noticing. Delicate.
- When he supplies measurements — hip, high, calf girth, age when breasts start to grow, when pubic hair appears… WITH FUCKING TENTHS AND HUNDREDTHS! THE BITCH THINKS HE’S WRITING A PAPER WHEREAS HE’S FUCKING KIDS, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE. Charming.
“Please, reader: no matter your exasperation with the tenderhearted, morbidly sensitive, infinite, circumspect hero of my book, do not skip these essential pages! […] Let’s even smile a little. There is no harm in smiling.”
Gimme a second to clear my throat. Alright, all done. Where was I already? Oh yes. THERE IS NO HARM IN SMILING? MOTHERFUCKER, I’LL BREAK BOTH OF YOUR LEGS AND I’LL BE SMILING REAL HARD, YOU SICK FUCK. Phew, that did make me feel better.
Shout-out to my personal favorites
A tiny bit of French:
The way the narrator uses the French language is simply disgusting. And he dares quote Proust, Rabelais, Baudelaire, Balzac, or Ronsard?! Understanding H.H. when he speaks it gives way to a whole new experience of the over-sexualization, perversion that it somehow brings along. And trust me, I’d rather it didn’t. No wonder why the English-speaking world has such a bad opinion of us froggies.
The sick, sick humor:
Because of all the embarrassing moments, the personal reflections, and the irony, the novel is definitely funny. And that’s not my being sadistic toward kids; it’s just that the book in itself is full of comedy. To be honest, I laughed way more than I should have, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to hell with Humbert Humbert. Worth it.
Love and beauty:
Reading Nabokov is always a pleasure, as it allows you to wander in the beautiful immensity of words, especially when he makes his characters talk about love — however illegal and morally condemned it may be, H.H.’s love for Lolita is one of the most passionate idylls you will ever find in literature, and I am not saying that lightly. Whether in the display of jealousy and hate, or in the intensity, the reality of his feelings for her… this would almost be enough to make you forget (or forgive?) all the horrible deeds he committed. Almost.
“You see, I loved her. It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.”
“And I looked and looked at her, and knew as clearly as I know I am to die, that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth, or hoped for anywhere else.”
The inner struggle to retain a pure mind
Humbert Humbert, the one you can’t stand to like
“I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita.”
Don’t be fooled, H.H might sound likable at times, he is like a predator with his prey, calculating his every move. Would you impregnate a child’s mother in order to get some alone time with the daughter while her mother is at the hospital giving birth? The fucker would. As he plans on leaving his nymphet once the charm stops working, he hopes he’ll be able to have a daughter of his own with her, so that he can wait for a few years for their daughter to become a nymphet herself and soil her body as well. I told you he was fucked up, didn’t I? So when I read that he ‘had the utmost respect for children,’ I outright ate a wall. No no, I’m not mistaken between hit-hit-hit and eat-ate-eaten. I actually ate a fucking wall. That’s what I do when I get super mad. Well, you’re weird too…
“I have but followed nature. I am nature’s faithful hound. Why then this horror that I cannot shake off?”
Imma lose it at some point before this is all over, I swear. This dude is sick. He’s got to be sick. It’s just that he has no remorse, no regrets, no nothing. He is conscious of what he is doing, and for him, it’s just what it is, nothing more. Spying on little girls in parks? Meh. Visiting orphanages just to stare at pubescent girls in perfect impunity? Meh. Saying that lusting over her doesn’t really count if she isn’t aware of it? Meh. You are constantly in the middle of trying your hardest to accept the fact that this man has a disease (and should therefore be treated with more compassion), and doing your utmost not to throw up.
Lolita, the one you can’t blame
“You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go.”
In a world where rape culture tends to prevail, I’d like to say a little something to those who say “she is just a horny teenage girl who craves for sex, she gets what she deserves.” First off, fuck you. Second, you’ve got to understand that she is still a child, and even though she might be discovering her body, experimenting with it — at her age I was probably eating glue out of a jar… to each his own, I guess? — she still cries at night. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing her that staying with him was not only the only possible thing for her but also the best. And if that’s not genuinely dismal, I don’t know what is.
“I am going to tell you something very strange: it was she who seduced me.”
Here is where I go batshit crazy. If someone — anyone — is not capable of understanding the situation they are in and giving their matured, thoughtful consent, they are not seducing you. They cannot think by themselves, whether because they are too young, or because of alcohol, or whatever. But let me be clear. Getting to do something — anything — with a person in this condition, and claiming that they seduced you isn’t only morally wrong, it’s also logically flawed. And heavens forbid, if you don’t get that, I will sucker punch the living shit out of you until you depart from the realm of the living.
This book changed me, and it will change you
You know what infuriates me the most about Nabokov? English isn’t even his mother tongue, and yet, very much like Conrad and his Heart of Darkness, he can write a masterpiece with his dick in his hand — quite literally with Lolita, for that matter, hahaha, haha, ha. (That’s not funny, you’re right, that’s gross.)
This novel is one of those you don’t want to read because they are too awful, too fucked up in the head. Nobody should have to go through being that close to the Devil, and to experience the aching turmoil that comes with it. Getting acquainted (and intimate!) with this character and the evil within makes you feel like you understand him. You catch all the double meanings, all the sexual innuendos. And eventually you don’t know if some are intended anymore or if you are just over-interpreting things; you become paranoiac… And then there are times when you can’t be wrong at all, and you just say ‘screw this, I’m out.’
“How sweet it was to bring that coffee to her, and then deny it until she had done her morning duty. And I was such a thoughtful friend, such a passionate father, such a good pediatrician, attending to all the wants of my little auburn brunette’s body!”
Let’s just say it as it is, Naby — yeah, he and I are friends, that’s the nickname I gave him in high school — is a freaking genius. Basically, had he written this nowadays, this specific piece of work would have never been published. I’ve heard people say “if this love story had starred a middle-aged woman as Lolita, this book would have been another Fifty Shades of Grey.” These people are right, at one tiny exception that this isn’t an erotic novel for horny housewives in heat. But that aside, sure, they are right. It’s just that one of the two is exquisitely written and not an absolute piece of crap artistically speaking, I’ll let you guess which one.
To put it bluntly, Lolita isn’t your regular pornographic novel of a perverted man raping his step daughter until his balls empty and dry up. (Oh my God, what am I saying?.. I told you this book changed me into a cynical bastard. Alright, I already was one before, but it didn’t help!) It is more, way more than this. Nabokov did an incredible job of writing a beautiful, poetic novel. Aesthetic bliss he wanted to give us, aesthetic bliss he gave us.
So in case you’re fucked up enough to want to read this fantastic novel — and I mean it, seriously, that stuff right there is unbelievably great — I’ll just leave the very first words of the book here just so you can get a rough picture of what awaits you. So buckle up, little Timmy… ’cause you’re about to see some shit.
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”