Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

So. I avoided reading this for years, despite that it’s a classic and that’s because the word Lolita has come to mean “hello i am a pervert who likes little girls” and the thought of being seen reading it in public made me feel uncomfortable.

Well, I needn’t have worried. The feeling of actually reading the descriptions of Humbert Humbert and Lolita’s “affair” made me deeply uncomfortable whether or not anyone else was able to see me. For me, the genius of the writing is that it both obscures the reality of what happens (and does it much better than other “unreliable narrator” books, like Enderby, for one) and makes you feel the purity of Humbert’s feelings for long stretches at a time, until you realise he’s talking about a 13-year-old girl again.

The quality of Nabokov’s writing is superb – beautiful prose accompanies every step of the journey Humbert and his Lolita take – and that’s why it feels so uncomfortable, because it places you so often in Humbert’s skin. Lolita herself is a bit of a mystery, as you’d expect – he doesn’t understand her, after all.

One thing I don’t understand is why anyone would want to make a film of it – the whole point is being inside Humbert’s head. If you can see what’s happening from the outside, and you lose Nabokov’s prose, then what have you got?

As for the book, it hardly needs my recommendation, but I do, absolutely.


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