A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{November 20, 2014}   Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov

lolita-vladimir-nabokovPlot: Humbert Humbert writes a memoir from jail explaining his taste for young girls and how he came into possession of an orphaned girl he calls Lolita.

Lo-li-ta. Even the way that HH describes pronouncing Dolores’ name in the first few lines of the book is sensual, memorable and deeply disturbing. And it sets the tone for the rest of the book. I find it telling that the title of the book is the name that he gives her, a clear sign that he is in control of the narrative… but I’m not going to turn this review into textual analysis or I’ll be here all day.

This is one of those classics that I’ve been meaning to read for a while, but the subject matter made me uneasy to put it lightly. It’s not a comfortable thing to be in the mind of a pedophile, but I do love an unreliable narrator and Humbert Humbert is that and more. With Nabokov’s beautiful turns of phrase and his own creative reimagining of events, HH tries to convince us that two years of terror and abuse are a love affair, with Dolores cast as the selfish seductress and himself a victim of her whims. And he is almost successful (or at least all the book covers sexualizing Lolita make me suspect this :/ ), except for the hints Nabokov skillful weaves into the narrative that all is not what it seems.

I am conflicted about this book. It is a masterpiece: beautifully written, full of sentences and expressions I wanted to underline, and it is a fascinating character study. But it is also deeply disturbing and potentially triggering. Nabokov avoids the outright pornographic but there are enough details about the rapes to make your skin crawl.

I was tempted to read Lolita in audiobook version (narrated by Jeremy Irons) but I feared nausea might overcome me. Has anyone else dared?

2014 (#60)


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