Three years of my life as an EU student of English Literature at the University of East Anglia,England.
In one word: amazing. I can’t believe I’d never heard about Lolita before and I’m glad I had to read it for my course. It was definitely my favourite novel so far! It reminded me a lot of The Catcher in the Rye, by Salinger, for those who have already read it.
“It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.”
How to explain this novel? The novel is presented as Humbert Humbert’s confessions before his trial: the first person narrator tells us about his experiences with Dolores – “Lolita” – aged 12, and how he fell in love with her. Not only does Humbert try to justify his love for her, but he also proves that she is the one who started flirting with him in the first place.
“She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms, she was always Lolita.”
Should we trust Humbert? Absolutely not. The narration techniques used in this novel are fantastic and very effective. Humbert is overly self-confident (refers to himself in the 3rd person), uses French sentences to sound even more pretentious. He keeps reminding the readers and the “jury” of how clever he is and how his “dark romantic European way” helps him seduce everybody. But these elements are what, in my opinion, make the novel amazing and even hilarious. The novel deals with pedophilia and yet, I loved Humbert and couldn’t stop laughing through the entire book. Understanding this is the key to understand the genius of Nabokov.
Since everything is seen and told through Humbert’s perspective, he chooses carefully what to say and what to omit. Therefore, the unreliable narrator makes us believe in his story. We end up thinking that “Lolita”, a young teenager, actually seduced him. That she wanted and liked all the things that happened. The sensual descriptions almost made me think that I was reading a romantico-erotic novel about adults. Humbert’s repeated sarcasms quickly make us forget that this book deals with traumatic events.
“I loved you. I was a pentapod monster, but I loved you. I was despicable and brutal, and turpid, and everything, mais je t’aimais, je t’aimais! And there were times when I knew how you felt, and it was hell to know it, my little one. Lolita girl, brave Dolly Schiller.”
Lolita does not even exist: she is a concept, invented to satisfy Humbert’s fantasies. When I started reading it I thought “I’m not reading this, this is too disgusting, how could someone read this and still look at themselves in the mirror?”. Well that was a really stupid reaction to have, and Lolita is now in my Top 3 (with The Catcher in the Rye and 1984).