22 February 2010

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up

Unofficial CR II, Book 5: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Where to start, where to start? There are certain authors I've always wanted to read but somehow not gotten around to - Nabokov was one. So when I read that Lolita was the first selection of the Pajiba Book Club, I figured what better time? And I suppose, in a way, my terrible book streak has ended - but I'd hardly put this down as a great success either.

I'm not sure there is any need to rehash the premise; even the slightest of readers hears a certain connotation to the name Lolita. We all know at least that this is the story of an adult male attracted to a prepubescent girl. As the mother of young girls, this was a terribly difficult read at times. I thought about abandoning the book more than once, disgusted by Humbert's detailed desires and haunted by confirmation of my own ideas about such a man. I kept reading for a couple of reasons. First, the prose was gorgeous and funny and flowing and tense, at its very best during a pivotal point in the story that caused my chest to pound (not coincidentally) as hard as Poe's telltale heart. But that same prose at times dragged and seemed to go on and on unnecessarily, as if the author just loved to see his words spill forth. And in the end, the points of climax (so to speak) all seemed to be unsatisfying, a letdown not only to the reader, but to the protagonist and even Lolita herself.

I understand there are those who come away with the idea (not unlike Humbert at times) that Lolita seduced and took advantage of a weak-minded man, but I am not one of them. I fall firmly on the side of Humbert's guilty conscience; he is a man who purposefully, willfully and sick-mindedly took away the childhood of a young girl. He changed her life forever, in every important way.

While I did enjoy the rampant humor, Humbert's mind games with himself and the moments when Lolita clearly confounded her "consort", my overall feeling at the end of this book was that of relief and sadness. I wished that Nabokov had written this exact book, but with a different tale (Dear reader, does that make any sense?). If this were a story of murder; a suspect being chased and his descent into madness, unrequited love between only adults or only children; anything but this tale of incomprehensible desire - it would have been nearer to perfection. If nothing else, I'm glad to have discovered Nabokov, and I hope to find another of his novels more to my liking.

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