Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lolita


I have heard that Lolita is a complex book of many depths, linguistic acrobatics and brilliant writing. I have heard that Nabokov’s writing style is flamboyant and is characterized by word play, double entendres, multilingual puns, anagrams, etc. All this made me desperately want to read Lolita. I wanted to delve into the satire and look at the book from a literary perspective. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do it. I was too involved in the story line to make note of the literary achievements of Nabokov. And worse, I couldn’t appreciate the satire in the midst of the events that I was reading about.
Lolita, contrary to what I had expected, turned out to be one of the most disturbing books I have ever read. It deeply affected me and I found myself having nightmares for a couple of days after I had finished the book. In spite of dealing with one of the most delicate subjects ever, Nabokov doesn’t use obscene language or graphic descriptions even once through the book. The book definitely doesn’t come across as one of those cheap pornographic trashy tales. It is a dirty little confession made in the classiest possible way.
What disturbed me the most was the fact that a person like Humbert could exist in this world – someone who easily destroys the life of a little girl and then gets away with it too! He does land up in jail by the end of the book, but as we all already know, it is not for the sexual assault on a minor but rather for the murder of a pornographer (Who doesn’t deserve to exist in the first place! {Well, at least according to me!}). Little things that he mentioned in the passing scared me. Like the part where he talks about how he sat in the park, pretending to be absorbed in the newspaper he held in his hand, but actually was looking at little girls at play and waiting for any little interaction with them. That totally scared me.
I haven’t been able to look at the comedy of the events described in the book. And I haven’t been able to see Dolores Haze as a sexually precocious little girl. To me, she was just like all the other little girls we see out there – active, energetic, moody and extremely curious about anything and everything happening around them. All that I saw through the book was a little girl, absolutely helpless with no one to turn to; caught in the clutches of Humbert, and being forced to do all the things she didn’t enjoy doing. She eventually learns to bribe him with sexual favors to get her way – but even that, I don’t think points to any perversity on her part. Given a choice, I am sure she would have preferred the typical life of a pre-teen girl any day!
Anyways, it has been a week since I finished reading the book and I don’t remember registering anything but the story. I completely missed the writing and the literature and the grammar plays. Does that mean I would have to read Lolita again to grasp it all? The very thought gives me the jitters.
With Lolita, I finish my third book for the Classics Challenge. I am currently reading “Of Human Bondage” by Somerset Maugham and I have partially finished classics still sitting on my bedside table – Picture of Dorian Gray and 1984. I hope to finish both sometime soon!

So, if you have read this book, I would love to hear your views. I am curious to see what others liked or disliked about this book.

13 comments:

Lezlie said...

I read this last year, and I'm so with you on your comments. I was so horrified in general that all the "literary beauty" blew right by me. I will be giving it another go to see if I can "get it", but it will be a while. . . :-)

Lezlie

Dar said...

Ramya, I tried reading this last year and I have to say I had to put it down. I just couldn't finish it. I've heard so often what a great piece of literature it is that I will likely give it a try someday again but it's sure difficult to read stuff like that.

Anna said...

I've never read this book, but I think it's probably one of those classics I should get around to reading soon. That part about him watching little girls is disturbing, especially since I have a young daughter. I should at least give it a try.

--Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)

Fyrefly said...

I listened to the audiobook version, which is read by Jeremy Irons, and he made Humbert sound so sympathetic and likeable that I would have to shake myself ever half-hour or so and go "no! He's not a good guy! He's horrible!"

I did catch (and love) some of the language and wordplay, but certainly not all of it. There's an annotated version of the book that has been on my wishlist forever that goes into more depth on each of the metaphors and references.

Ramya said...

@lezlie - i'm so glad i am not the only one! I might give it another shot.. but not in the near future.:)

@dar - oh! i know the feeling. there were times when i just had to put the book down coz i was so disturbed by it..but i picked it up coz i wanted to finish it for the challenge! so i guess i need to thank trish for that!

@anna - i have been wondering how a mom would feel about this book.i have a cousin with two little girls and i am sure she'll freak out on reading a book like this! if you ever get around to reading it, do let me know what you thought about it!!

@fyrefly- you know, its not just the audiobook.. even the writing makes you kinda like humbert! i found myself feeling sorry for him at some points of his narration and i had to pinch myself to get back on track and start hating him! there's an annotated version? hmm..maybe that's the thing that i should read next.. thanks for letting me know!

Trish said...

I have this one on my list and I have very mixed feelings about it. I want to read it because of the literary merit but I'm fearful of the subject matter. Not really sure what to think about it!!

And great work with the classics! You are moving right along!!

Ramya said...

@trish - i started reading it because of the literary content.. but got carried away thanks to the subject matter. hope you do a better job of relishing the literature when you get to reading this book!:)

bethany said...

oh I know. I was going to try this one, but then I didn't want to and now I really don't. thanks for the heads up!!! :)

Laxmi Karumbu said...

OMG this is on my orbis terrarum list and I don't think I will enjoy it (I have a daughter too). It sounds so scary - especially since it involves the mundane.Seeing stuff on TV scares me enough ... Great review Ramya.Happy 3rg blog anniversary.

Ramya said...

@bethany - oops! don't let my review scare you.. i know there have been folks who didnt let the subject matter affect them too much.. they just landed up enjoying the literature part of the book.. i totally missed out on that.. you should give it a shot sometime!

@laxmi - i can imagine! i am glad i read it before i have any little girls running around me.. i would have been soo paranoid!!

Priya Iyer said...

i have been wanting to read this book, but i m sure it will disturb me.. :( debating...

Ramya said...

@priya - you are right about that. it is quite a disturbing book esp if you are like me and if you get totally involved in the story.. but do give it a shot.. it is a good reading experience..:)

bekkah said...

I read Lolita YEEEAARS ago. Therefore, I can't remember specifics about what I liked/disliked.

What I DO remember is that it's a wonderfully written book, but the subject matter was so disturing that it prevented me from loving it or even recommending it to anyone. In fact, I don't even like seeing it on my bookshelf :\