BOOK REVIEW _ VLADIMIR NABOKOV – LOLITA 1955 Penguin Books.

 

Highly controversial novel concerning the sordid world of Paedophilia. Narrator Humbert Humbert is in loves with a girl called Dolores (he calls her Lolita among many other names). Even though he is in his forties and she is only 12 (at least when they first meet). She reminds him of a previous lover, who has long since died, and who was also a child.

 

Humbert gets to Lolita by seducing her mother, and eventually marrying her. He does not like the mother at all. He also begins to see Lolita as less like his idealized nymphet and more of an ordinary precocious pre-teen spoilt brat.  

 

When Lolita misbehaves, her mother sends her away to Summer Camp, and in the absence of the girl, Humbert experiments with the use of sleeping pills to render the mother unconscious, hoping to use them later to subdue Lolita and therefore be able to molest her more thoroughly. The drugs only make the mother groggy, and suspecting something is wrong, she goes through Humbert's papers, which include detailed diaries of his feelings and actions towards Dolores. The mother runs out to take the papers to the police, and Humbert gives chase, but he is saved when the girl’s Mum is run over by a car and killed. He retrieves his papers and destroys them. As the stepfather, he gains legal custody of Lolita, and takes her on a tour of America, failing initially to tell her what has happened to her Mum, though Lolita soon finds out. The girl is also no longer virginal, having had an affair with a boy during her Summer Camping, and she flirts with many other boys during her travels with Humbert.  She moves increasingly from innocent victim to initiator of the seduction, taking Humbert for a ride as she proves to be anything but the virginal plaything Humbert desires. 

 

The molester also has competition from a sinister figure called Clare Quilty, a more professional paedophile, with who Lolita has several secret meetings. The later chapters of the book are a cat and mouse game between the two adult monsters. After two years on the road, Lolita escapes from Humbert and it is another two years before he finds her, now a young adult, married and pregnant.  Humbert gets clues from her husband about the whereabouts of Quilty and goes to kill him. 

 

His confessional book is written in prison while awaiting trial, though we are notified that Humbert will die before his shocking revelations are discovered, and Lolita is also a victim of untimely early death. Though early and late chapters are riveting, especially in the pursuit of the mysterious and creepy Clare Quilty, much of the middle section of the book is frightfully dull. It reads like a travelogue with no plot progression at all.

 

Despite its sensitive subject, the book is far from erotic, and neither Humbert nor Quilty are likely to tell us much about the mindset of modern child molesters. The book has been filmed twice. 

 

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