‘Lolita’ by Vladimir Nabokov tells the story of Humbert Humbert and his obsession with twelve year old Dolores Haze also known as Lolita. Humbert marries her mother, Charlotte, to be closer to Lolita and after her sudden death, Humbert becomes sexually involved with Lolita and they travel around the United States. The themes of obsession and loss of innocence are dark and so is the humour in this densely written classic which is still as controversial today as it was when it was first published in the 1950s.
Given the subject of the novel, I still don’t know if I would say I enjoyed reading ‘Lolita’ as such but I certainly came to appreciate why it regularly features in lists of the greatest novels of the 20th century. I love books with unreliable narrators and Humbert Humbert has got to be the most unreliable of unreliable narrators. His twisted explanations for his perverse behaviour and obsession with young girls or ‘nymphets’ as he calls them alongside his later claims that he is not proud of what he has done without attempting to hide it are written brilliantly and really play on the emotions of the reader. As well as being highly articulate and intelligent, we see that Humbert is also pathetic, weak, warped and arrogant. I found the second half of the story weaker than the first half but the inevitability of Lolita growing up still leads to a powerful ending.
‘Lolita’ was first published in 1955. As well as the conflicting emotions I felt whilst reading the book because of Humbert’s skewed view of what he did, I also found myself wondering what sort of reaction there would be if a book with the same themes and told with a similar sort of black humour was published today. Would people buy it and read it or would it only cause outrage amongst Daily Mail journalists? I guess it would depend on who was writing it but for now, ‘Lolita’ remains a true one-off.