Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Publisher: Penguin UK (25 August 2011)
Price: Rs. 319 on Amazon.
**Might contain spoilers**
My eyes always widen when I hear the word "controversial". This book was supposed to be one of the most controversial books that is still banned in many countries. This was enough for me to buy it immediately. I knew the blurb really well, as well as the forbidden subject it speaks of, and yet I wanted to read it. One fine day I started and within two pages I was getting nowhere. I found the writing too tedious and chunky. I was bored and dropped the book. But it continued to haunt me. I picked and dropped it thrice, over a period of a year before finally making my way through it. It definitely is not an easy read or a conventional love story. Lolita is included on TIME magazine's list of the 100 best English language novels to have been published from 1923 to 2005. Well, it sure is.
The protagonist is a middle aged literature professor, who goes by the name Humbert Humbert (HH). He has a sexual fascination for girls aged from 9 to 14 whom he calls nymphets. After the death of his childhood sweetheart Annabel, he goes on looking for her in every nymphet. He is aroused by nymphets and spends most of his time pretending to read in a park while being surrounded by them. He then meets Valeria, an adult who behaves like a nymphet and marries her. But when she runs away with a taxi driver, HH moves to the the small New England town of Ramsdale. It is said that he is here to write but his main agenda is to find another nymphet whom he can seduce. He finds this nymphet in the 12 year old daughter of the family from whom he is to rent an apartment. When he gets to Ramsdale, he discovers that this family house has been burned down and he has no place to go. A lady called Charlotte Haze offers him a place to stay. He goes to check out the place with every intention of refusing the offer. Then, he meets Dolores Haze. The landlady's 12 year old daughter and he immediately sees Annabel in her. He's deeply infatuated and secretly calls her 'Lolita'.
Then begins his quest for Lolita and how he can have her. Turns out Dolores has a crush on a playwright, Clare Quilty whom HH instantly dislikes. As days pass and when Dolores is away, Charlotte Haze writes a letter to HH declaring her love for him and asking him to stay if he loves her too. Else, he's asked to leave immediately. Consumed with the fear of never being able to see Lolita again, HH ends up marrying Charlotte and becoming step father to Dolores, while still nursing feelings for her. When Charlotte finds HH's diary and learns of his true feelings she is disgusted and runs out of the house. She is killed by a passing car and HH drives to Lolita's camp to pick her up and tells her that her mother is ill. He takes her to hotel and sedates her hoping to rape her. But he is in for a surprise.
When HH tells Dolores that her mother is actually dead, they decide not to go back and drive around the country instead. They move from state to state and motel to motel indulging in their individual fantasies. After a year of touring they settle down and Dolores is sent to a new school. She ends up having an argument with HH and decides that she wants to go on another road trip and this time she gets to choose the place. While on the road again, Dolores suddenly disappears. And then begins HH's search for his Lolita. Who abducted her and why? Will he ever see her again?
There is no way you can get past the first few chapters without cringing. There are no breaks in a page and at times paragraphs go on for pages altogether. This is what makes the reading process so difficult. My eyes were exhausted every time I read this. The language used is far from simple and has ample French in it. The story is clearly taboo, but the execution of it is nothing short of brilliant. While it may seem that the book is all about carnal pleasures, it is not explicitly mentioned anywhere. This is a love story at the end of the day. The love that HH had for his Lolita. While you hate HH from the start for being a pervert, towards the mid of the book you realize that he's not the offender here. And towards the end of the book, you clearly end up feeling bad for him. Dolores on the other hand is like most young girl children. Rebellious, stubborn and girly. HH presumes her to be innocent, but she is anything but that. She has her own secrets and achievements.
While the story mainly revolves around HH and his Lolita, it flows really well. Right from his obsession that turns to love and then loss and betrayal. Their travels are described really well and takes you along the journey. Something that I least expected with this book. The prose, though complex is magnificent. The book might have her name, but the real hero is Humbert Humbert. His dangerous passion for Lolita leaps off every page and makes the romantic in him a murderer. He's creepy at times and so innocently love lorn at other times. His patience with his nymphet is quite astonishing considering what a tyrant she is. I actually thought that this book is about a sex maniac who sleeps with a young girl and discards her when she grows up. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Verdict: This probably is the my longest book review, but I had to set the tone right about the story and then talk about it. Verdict? Read it. Just for the sheer brilliance of the story and the writing.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
P.S: The minus 0.5 is for the difficulty in reading. I would not flaw this book otherwise.