Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged, fastidious college professor. He also likes little girls. And none more so than Lolita, whom he’ll do anything to possess. Is he in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster?… Or is he all of these?
First off, for those of you who aren’t aware, the story of ‘Lolita’ is about a paedophile who marries a woman so that he can groom and rape her tweleve year old daughter. It is considered a brilliant book by those who appreciate how well written the story is and those who admire the skill that went into creating the unique narrative voice.
Now, while I have to admit that all of those are valid points, I have to stress that this is a strange book to get to grips with. It is the confession of a rapist, murderous paedophile who attempts to justify his actions throughout. For those who find it difficult to think about the subject matter, reading about it from such a complex viewpoint can be fairly exhausting. Humbert is amusing, there’s no doubt about that, his black dismissal of almost everyone on increasingly petty grounds is probably the most human he gets but for every passage where he almost endears you to him, he follows it with a horrendous description of his darker desires or sickening actions and you are once again reminded that this is a sick, nefarious creature who nature and morality command you to condemn.
In fact, in order to get myself through the book I had to make a list entitled “Everything that’s wrong with Humbert Humbert” that included, but was not limited to:
- Doesn’t like dogs.
- by calling the girls he preys upon “nymphets” he assigns them at least some part of the blame for attracting or seducing him, he’s not attracted to all girls only some and therefore it must be something they do that produces that reaction in him.
- Blames societal norms as many years ago, or in different societies, 12 would not be too young to marry and so he would not be considered a deviant or abnormal.
- He doesn’t see anything wrong with watching young girls in the park, or from his window etc. and believes that as long as the child he’s watching doesn’t know they’re being watched, no damage is being done and he is perfectly at liberty to please himself at his own liberty.
- Considers blackmailing and even murdering Lolita’s mother in order to have her.
- Rapes both Lolita and her mother without any qualms.
- Actually says “I do not rape as good soldiers do”- like he honestly thinks that this is a good argument? He’s honestly feeling sorry for himself because he thinks its socially acceptable for soldiers to rape people but he’s villified for it?
- Is actually insane.
- Emotionally abuses and manipulates Lolita while he grooms, rapes and isolates her.
- Considers Lolita satisfying him sexually as her “duty” and even, in one scene, gets her to do it while he watches schoolchildren.
- Attempts to control all aspects of her life including who she meets, where and for how long and even watches a great many of her interactions.
- Hits her.
- Kills the man who saved her from him.
- Even after all he’s put her through, still has the audacity to beg Lolita to come back to him. Even when she’s married and pregnant.
So, as you can see, Humbert Humbert may be an entertaining narrator in the sense that he creates a fascinating tone for the book and provides an unique and interesting voice for the story to be told from, it is still by no means an easy read.
This book will leave you uncomfortable, in despair and frantically attempting to claw at any specks of humanity in Humbert’s character in some vain attempt to explain why this is such an entertaining book when the subject matter is so depraved and depressing.
This isn’t a nice book, but that doesn’t mean its not a good book. I can safely say that I would never want to meet Mr Humbert, or anyone like him, but I can also say without doubt that there are those who would see themselves in him when they read this book, and I can only hope that this story deters rather than encourages such people. It’s not a pleasant read, but it has its moments of humour and although it makes you suspicous of all strange men its still a fantastic piece of literature.
Nabokov’s fantastic novel that sought to highlight how mentally ill his narrator and those who think like him are and how dyfunctional and, to be brutally honest, fucked up sexualising young children (and young girls especially in this example) is makes for a brilliant read. It won’t be the easiest thing to read, but it will be an experience you’re unlikely to forget quickly.