Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Disgust and Disquietude


by Vladimir Nabokov

Published by Everyman's Library

3 Out of 5 Stars

In a word: unsettling. Lolita is beautifully written, full of lyrical prose and clever word play, and I commend Nabokov for the obvious skill and talent it took to write a novel in a language other than his native Russian. Having said all of that, no matter how beautiful, how inventive, how genius: I don't want to read about a pedophile, especially from the perspective of a pedophile. There's not a whole lot that I shy away from while reading (all sins are welcome here, for the sake of entertainment), but a pedophile who kidnaps the object of his affection and repeatedly rapes her during a cross country journey just isn't my bag, baby.

What makes the novel particularly terrifying is Humbert Humbert. To the outside world, he is a suave, sophisticated intellectual with movie star good looks--he's decidedly not someone one would look at and think, "Hmm . . . I bet he gets his jollies from playgrounds and little girls." I think many of us expect a pedophile's tendencies to somehow manifest themselves in the physical appearance: we expect the old man with a nervous twitch and a wanky eye (or the pop star with a high pitched giggle and a freakin' Ferris wheel on his property), but not someone who appears as civilized as Humbert. Admittedly, this is a stroke of genius on Nabokov's part as there are probably far more Humberts in this world who slip under the radar than we would like to admit. Even worse, Humbert seems to displace the blame on the girls themselves. Oh, sure, there is the occasional reference to himself as a beast or an ape and he comes to mourn Lolita's lost childhood at the hands of his unwholesome desires, but far more often there's the view of the nymphettes as demonic--something otherworldly, tempting little femme fatales in boy shorts with scraped knees and poor Humbert is powerless against their siren song. In addition, he seems to justify or rationalize what he does because he's an intellectual with the capacity to appreciate the aesthetics and sublime pleasures of the young (he often compares himself to poets and artists who loved their young muses, as though this somehow justifies his actions). The man is sick and, while I think he knows it, he doesn't know how to handle it.

To all of this, I can only offer a highly intellectual "blech" or "yuck" and move on as quickly as possible to the next book.

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