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Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Originally published by George Weidenfeld and Nicholson Ltd. in 1959

Lolita is the story of an obsession, told by the obsessed who happens to be a paedophile. Humbert Humbert is a "brand-new American citizen of obscure European origin", a writer/academic who comes to live in America after the Second World War. He becomes the lodger of a widow, Charlotte Haze, who is the mother of a twelve year old girl. His first sight of this girl – Lolita – reminds him of a childhood sweetheart, and he decides there and then to take up residence in the house. Nabokov presents the twisted thinking of the obsessed man very explicitly. We follow his cold calculating logic as he, in effect, stalks his prey – the giddy, giggly, pretty Lolita who is a typical moody, noisy teenager constantly battling with her mother. He seduces and marries Charlotte in order to gain access to Lolita. Then when, fortuitously for him, the mother is killed accidentally, he assumes guardianship and possession of the child.

Humbert's total lack of real concern for Lolita’s well-being is chilling. He explains that after Charlotte’s death, "with all blocks removed and prospect of delirious and unlimited delights before me……I was obsessed by all sorts of purely ethical doubts and fears". This is because he had taken no steps toward becoming the legal guardian of his dead wife's daughter and dreaded having his 'nymphet' taken away from him. Initially he does not tell Lolita that her mother is dead and embarks on a flight across America with her and, having brutally broken the news to her, he tries to comfort her distress with presents. He fails her badly but this does not concern him until they made it up very gently because "she had absolutely nowhere else to go".

The book is beautifully and powerfully written. Characters are minutely observed, the life style of post-war America accurately if somewhat cynically described. Nabokov gets under the skin of each of his creations and brings them disturbingly to life. It is not an easy book to read because of its taboo subject matter – child abuse – and because it is difficult to feel sympathy for Humbert who is alternately arrogant and mawkishly self-pitying. Also the ending is both melodramatic and too neatly rounded off - every character in some fashion gets his or her just or unjust deserts. Only Nabokov’s skill as a writer enables the reader to suspend belief.

Reviewed by a Clare County Library staff member.