I knew the basic storyline, (even saw the movie...I think?) Indeed, how could one not know the premise? It is the prime example of Books Which Are Unceasingly Banned. The synopsis didn't put me off. I've been reading long enough to know that it takes more than an unpleasant topic to make a book unenjoyable. In fact, there have been plenty of books that I've loved despite the topic not being a natural favorite. Examples:
- The Art of Fielding (baseball)
- Revolutionary Road (extreme marital discord)
- Star of the Sea (boats, ocean)
- Slaughterhouse Five (space/science)
- The Good Earth (ancient China)
I was ready for Lolita to fall into a growing line of books in which the writing overcame the topic, but it didn't happen. Not only that, but it took a great amount of effort for me to finish it. It was sucking the reading-passion out of me. Perhaps that sounds drastic and extreme, but, believe me, the going was rough.
By page 70 or so (just after the first incident) I was tempted to quit. The topic, from Humbert's point of view, was too much for me. In my mid-book-procrastination, I did what I often do: read reviews of the book online, and read the author's note at the end of the book. This often helps me refresh my frame of mind and jump back into the book, and it worked this time as well. The scenes didn't progress as I feared they would, something else happened instead. I got depressed.
I didn't see any loveliness in this book. There wasn't any hope, any humor, any levity. It was all imbalanced minds, selfish passion, and destruction. Nabokov is a master of language, but he shows H.H. in such a rigidly realistic manner that it didn't do anything for me at all. The perspective didn't engage me or compel me to contemplate the characters. It was just sad, depressing, and I wanted it to be over.
I chased Lolita with a cleansing shot of Flannery O'Connor, which seemed to do the trick. I read the short story "Greenleaf" (part of the collection Everything That Rises Must Converge) last night and enjoyed it greatly--my interest in reading is restored. Where Nabokov shows unsavory characters in a moderated tone, O'Connor illuminates the ridiculous in us all. Perhaps it's just a matter of taste, but I'm happy to put this one behind me. All but the first paragraph, which I still love.
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.Title: Lolita
Author: Vladamir Nabokov
Published: 1993 Everyman's Library (orig. 1955)
Read For: Back to the Classics Challenge, Banned Books Week
My Rating: great writing, depressing topic, averages out to 3 stars