March 19, 2018, by Words on Words
Book Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
This blog post was written by second year English student, Jaya Prabhakar.
Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita has been recommended to me multiple times, so finally I sat down and began reading it…and couldn’t stop. The novel chronicling Humbert Humbert’s ‘passion’ for Lolita is as engaging as it is disconcerting. Avoiding spoilers, the novel is written from the perspective of Humbert Humbert, a man in his late thirties at the beginning of the book, and relates the story of his passion for, or rather his obsession with a 12 year-old girl, Lolita. Nabokov explores the world of the unreliable narrator and subverts the trope of the typical love story, as the ideas of love and depraved obsession are confused with each other.
As well as engaging with interesting themes, Nabokov’s narrative style is ingenious; not only does it succeed in depicting the mind of a criminal, but it also illustrates the ease with which the reader’s interpretation of events can be swayed with a convincing narrative, even if it is completely wrong. The multi-layered and complex narrative not only reflects the convoluted mind of Humbert Humbert, but also serves to skew and confuse the reader’s viewpoint, sweeping us along until we realise we are accepting the viewpoint of a criminal.
I found myself comparing this narrative to today’s media and their tendency to portray women and men of all ages as over-sexualised objects of desire, whilst society increasingly, and worryingly, accepts this behaviour, making it seem normal. Nabokov’s tragic tale of Lolita, cloaked in Humbert Humbert’s twisted, deluded and at times humorous ‘love story’ is a reminder of the power of the narrator to alter reality, be it in literature, the media, or in a courtroom (as in the book). It is the job of others to distinguish the truth in the unreliable narratives we may read and hear every day, protecting those who are victimised and preyed upon.
The brilliant thing about literature is that these issues are brought to our attention through fictional worlds, perhaps teaching us how to approach situations in reality. Although I wouldn’t call Lolita an easy read, I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you’re looking for something to really make you think.