Book Report: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

Book coverThe 2024 Winter Reading Challenge has a category Outside Your Comfort Zone, and I figured it was finally time to tackle this novel. I bought it sixteen years ago at an estate sale south of Blackburn Park in Old Trees when my oldest was but a toddler. It has languished on the to-read shelves for an occasion just such as this as at no point would I carry this book outside the house to read it, gentle reader.

You might know the basics of the story, gentle reader, as it has passed into the culture even beyond its film adaptations. Humbert Humbert has what Ed McBain would call “Short Eyes” for the title character. The book details his biography, an encounter in his youth to which he attributes his predilection, and then how he comes to room with a woman and her daughter, the title character. The book, erm, waxes poetic on the attributes of the girl, and when the mother dies shortly after marrying the narrator and then finding his hidden journal detailing his obsession. Humbert takes the girl across country, dallying with her often, but although initially she was into their assignations, she grows bored and distant. They settle in a town, and she attends a girls’ school for a while, but they take off on another cross-country excursion, this one in desperation as the narrator fears she is into someone else. Then she disappears, presumably with that someone else, and he loses touch of her for a number of years before she reaches out, and he meets her, married and pregnant, and then he kills the man who stole her from him (not her husband).

The frame of the book is that it’s a manuscript written by a man in jail awaiting trial (for the murder, likely). The narrator is trying awfully hard to not sound like a bad guy with his actions taking place in between bouts of real madness and trips to a sanitarium. The sensuous descriptions of the girl, though, make one feel squicky. The unreliable narrator comes off as pretty pathetic, and the girl kind of bratty. The prose is overwritten, with the author just dropping lists into the text (not bulleted, mind you, but lists anyway, which gets tedious).

As I was reading it, I was wondering, “Why write this book?” I mean, there’s no hero in it and no lesson to learn from it unless it’s just to shock the bourgeoisie (which might have been part of the point) or to perhaps normalize this behavior (not the madness nor brattiness but the other thing, which is probably not the point but seems to be gaining steam in the 21st century). Nabakov included an afterword in the English depiction here which boils down to 1.) It’s Art and 2.) I am a great novelist in several languages. But I don’t wonder if he didn’t just want to write Crime and Punishment for mid-century America.

Welp, I read it. So I have another thing to strike off in innumerable “you should read this book” lists (such as this, this, or this). And I have one more category done in the Winter Reading Challenge.

In searches on this blog for the book’s title, conducted to see if I had it in a Good Book Hunting post, I rediscovered that this book played a part in The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald. Ah, a shame! The Library/Bookstore Setting category will likely be the last I complete, and The Bookshop would not only have satisfied that category but also the Made Into A Movie/TV Show category. As you know, gentle reader, I like those twofers.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

1 thought on “Book Report: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

Comments are closed.