After having read the book, I really don’t like any of the descriptions for it from the book sites and so would rather include an excerpt on its inspiration from the Wikipedia page for the book:
Nabokov adds that “the initial shiver of inspiration” for Lolita “was somehow prompted by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature’s cage”. Neither the article nor the drawing has been recovered.
Personally, I think that says a lot about it and a lot about why I loved it. I had always assumed that I would hate it, knowing that it was about an older man taking advantage of a very young girl. What I hadn’t realized was that it is a book knowingly written from the villain’s point of view. I had thought it would be all excuses and romanticism. That stuff is there, sure, but thinly veiled so that the read may hear HH’s excuses to himself and still see right through them.
Unfortunately, I do also recognize how parts could easily be represented as Lolita’s complicity in her situation, but these would fail to take into consideration either her initial naivete (which many girls that young have had about older men), her recognition of a situation that is quite hopeless, or the significant possibility of Stockholm’s syndrome. Of course, there is also the fact that HH is writing in the first person and everything about her is therefore subject to his interpretation.
The challenge of the book, and part of its genius perhaps, is seeing Lolita herself outside of his interpretation. It makes me want to see the movie and how the actress interprets Lolita’s actions. I’ve read other books by men that are associated more with the way women are perceived by them then women actually are (Great Expectations and The Great Gatsby for starters) that should do the same thing but I had unfortunately not gone into those prepared for their intentional misrepresentation of my gender and hated them on the first read. (I do owe both a reread since I was told the opinion on it that the women were intentionally written the way they were to point out some men’s lack of realization that we are in fact fully three dimensional beings)
I do hate the definition and use of the word “nymphet” in practical use but I get why the author included it. I thought it really helped deliver the delusional nature of Humbert’s vision of Lolita and the way he romanticized and lusted after girls that were far too young. I did, however, appreciate the inclusion of Humbert’s background and some notable things within it. Specifically, those things are the lapses in mental health, his attempts at staying within decency, and his prior love, Annabel. I don’t know enough about psychology to have an informed opinion on whether her death really contributed to his affinity for young girls but it made an interesting hypothesis on the part of the afflicted.
It was interesting, and super creepy, to see the way his ability to control Lolita’s life played into both his hunger for her and many of her responses to him. The progression of their “relationship” was again mostly creepy but interesting in that way we only can be in fiction when it’s not real people that are being hurt. His power over her made him increasingly tyrannical as power has been historically shown to do.
The whole story climaxes in such a way that is so consistent with the character’s personalities and strangely satisfying in it’s own way. I’d rather not spoil it, though anyone could easily look up the whole synopsis on Wikipedia if interested, it’s linked about anyway. I listened to a copy from the library that was read by Jeremy Irons who also played the protagonist in the 1997 film.
I had finally picked it up to listen to as my hold on Reading Lolita in Tehran finally came through, which is also proving to be a great book and gave me some necessary insight into Nabokov’s writing style and Humbert’s character.
If you’re interested in the book, it’s probably available at your library too, but you can also click on the cover to be redirected to the Booklikes page that has worldwide options for purchasing an ebook, audiobook, or hardcopy.