Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm probably going to say what a million readers have already said about this book: "It's language is entrancing and gorgeous."
It's got to be one of the most imminently quotable of all books, but what I think is most notable is its subtle commentary skewering the society we all know. The satire feels entirely unintentional and incidental against Humbert's machinations and obsessions with little girls and his special nymphette.
I was initially thrilled by Nabokov's facility by language and horrified by the subject, and that didn't really change for most of the book, but then something else started happening to my brain. The mutual seduction of a twelve-year old girl had suddenly moved beyond my outrage to a dumbstruck and almost clinical detachment, watching the tumultuous living arrangements of this father and his step-daughter as they traveled around the country and briefly attempted to settle down in a quiet town instead of hopping the border, watching it degenerate as the pressure of a confused and immature girl learns to play all the strings of Humbert's bow, and he lets her because he is ultimately so damn weak and drunk on possessiveness and mindless jealous rages, never once seeing the little girl for who she was or truly acknowledging that she was desperately unhappy despite moments of returned passion littered with her despoiled self-worth.
From Lolita's story, it was more than just the end of innocence. It was the indoctrination of a woman by the sick standards of all men, turning her into nothing but a whore turning tricks in order to survive. Humbert was trapped by his own desires, sure, and blind to anything but his own passions, but he only barely recognized what he was truly doing to her. No matter how many movies or plush hotels they frequent, no matter how many gifts he gave, he never understood that true understanding might have been the real key to her heart. (And I say this, regardless of the sickening subject of child molestation. It is only one side, and a truly sensational one in the horrific sense, but Nabokov's genius lay in telling equally important tales within this singular novel that transcend the hook.)
I truly believe that this story does an excellent job of pointing out exactly how perverse our world is, that we can accept such a mode of thinking as perfectly normal in such lesser doses, that the need to possess something or someone so uniquely and rapturously, can be easily carried to further extremes, such as carrying the rule of law, the continued subjugation of women, or even men by their own stunted ability to think or break free of all the things they understand to be right and just in a society so damn sick in its heart that I just want to cry and cry and cry.
Okay. This was a pretty effective novel on many more levels, but this is what I'm leaving this review on.
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