Lolita – Andy gets a bit gross and grubby with Vlad and HumbertApril 20, 2015
So here we are in the last half of April, blogging about the first book of the year. Granted, we took January and February off, but still, blogging about March’s book in the last weeks of April is … pretty much par for the course, I guess.
I have suggested Nabokov’s Lolita a couple of times over the however many years it is now Netty and I have being doing the challenge. The last time Netty screwed her face up and said “Why would I want to read that?” This time round I explained, rather gently, that Nabokov was one of the few, perhaps the only giant of 20th century English-language letters that we had not yet tackled.
That got her.
But having finally read the Russian great’s incendiary account of one seriously fucked-up man’s hebephilia (No, Humbert Humbert is not a pedophile – he is a monstrously nauseating creature, but he is attracted to girls who have just – barely – hit puberty, and that is a different paraphilia to pedophilia. There may be different labels for the various sexual abuses of children, but do the labels make any of those variations less monstrous, less nauseating? That, dear reader, is your call.), I can tell you that while I respect Vlad’s talent, and will at some stage get around to reading something else of his, I’m not sure Lolita is the magnificent work of world literature it’s supposed to be.
Although it’s pretty good. I mean, this is a book about a middle-aged guy sexually abusing a pubescent girl, and … um …. a lot of it’s really funny. Like seriously, Really, really funny. It is gross and it is disgusting, a lot of it, and it is often laugh-out-loud funny. Humbert’s lack of self-awareness, as hinted at by his creator, is sometimes a source of humour; his occasional moments of blistering self-awareness can be funny, too (although sometimes not so much). There is some slapstick, believe it or not, particularly in the penultimate (is it penultimate? I forget now) murder scene (no, I will not reveal who dies). Feisty, flawed, flippant Lolita herself – apparently Nabokov’s favourite among his fictitious creations – is often very funny.
And sometimes not so much.
There is a point well into the book where Humbert, narrator (mostly), acknowledges that he knows Lolita is desperately unhappy about her lo(li)t(a): after Humbert has raped her, nightly, she waits until she thinks he has fallen asleep, and then she weeps. Except he’s not asleep, and he hears her expressions of grief, and he tells his readers of them. And the next night he rapes Lolita, again.
There are those who claim Lolita is a defence of pedophilia, Or something. None of these tards have read the book, clearly. Nabokov himself claimed he never tried to be didactic, and I’ll cop that. He may not be saying “middle-aged men should not have sex with pubescent girls (or boys, even) because that is gross and disgusting”; but he certainly seems, to me, to be saying “middle-aged men who have sex with pubescent girls (or boys, even) are gross and disgusting and should be held to account for their actions by the law”.
OK, Vlad would probably be annoyed by me reading a little too much into his perspective.
So good but not great, challenging but not a catastrophe for Western values (George Pell would know more about that sort of thing than Nabokov), queasily amusing, revolting, absorbing. Never forget, as you read Lolita, that this is a novel about the sexual abuse, the rape, of a young girl. But also, never forget: this is a novel,