fiction

Lolita

Indonesian edition’s cover

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita has always been the talk of the literary world ever since its first coming-out, being an object of study and critical scrutiny. First published in 1955, Lolita is still the most standout work of  literary fiction about psychological problem and what people deem to be a deviant, perverse sexual behavior to this day. I wouldn’t say it’s exactly about pedophilia, though if you step back a little bit you’ll probably see it that way, for, to my thinking, it encompasses a wider range of issues and thoughts than we can comprehend.

Humbert Humbert is a lonely man even as he is a child, with a dead mother, a lustful love for a childhood friend named Annabel who then dies from typhus, abundant sexual desire satisfied in prostitution, and a wife who cheats and leaves him. He never seems to get any consolation in love, much less in life. It somehow affects his psychological condition, how he thinks and how he sees things. But no matter what molds him, he knows that he is attracted to little girls, thinking that they are desirable and make him burned with passion.

When he moves from his native country to America, he happens to meet this little pre-teen girl named Dolores Haze, who looks so much like Annabel, endearingly calling her Lolita. Desire drives him eager to get closer to the girl, and to that end, he marries her mother Charlotte, who is so in love with him. But then Charlotte discovers his deepest secret and his unbearable desire for her daughter. She makes a dash for it and gets killed in an accident, providing Humbert with an opportunity to have Lolita in his arms. He takes the girl traveling around America and they make love in secret. Lolita doesn’t resist, doesn’t even bother to cover her sexual attraction for Humbert, thinking of herself as Humbert’s lover. When Humbert first asks her to make love to him, she neither refuses nor escapes. However, everything changes over time and when she is getting older, she realizes that she falls in love with somebody else and runs away.

Reading the character of Humbert Humbert won’t be enough with study and scrutiny only. He is too complex to understand, too psychologically complicated to comprehend. His behavior is dangerously deviant, to say the least, but psychological approach alone cannot explain nor elaborate exactly the ground for his socially unacceptable behavior. And what astounded me even more is that the way he narrates his feelings and thoughts makes him look normal, as if desiring for a little girl is just as unsurprising as someone getting tired after working from nine to five. And the portrayal of Lolita doesn’t help, either. Being a pre-teen girl, I don’t think it is abnormal for her to have an indecisive mind. But I cannot even read her mind clearly for the description of her character is painted through Humbert’s point of view, which is doubtfully true to objectivity. It is very much impossible for me to decide if she and Humbert really share a certain feeling whatsoever.

Like the character of Humbert, the language Nabokov used in writing Lolita is so beautifully complicated and too hard to take. Nevertheless, I had no problem in enjoying the story since it has a nice plot to follow, albeit equipped with too detailed descriptions. What becomes a problem is, I have to say, the point of view from which the story is being told. I can see what’s being narrated, but I cannot decide completely whether it is about pedophilia or not, or is it actually talking about unconditional love between two people of two different generations. Humbert’s point of view blurs everything and makes the narrative subjective in a way that I cannot comprehend. What Nabokov wants to deliver is unclearly ambiguous to me that I cannot catch the true message of the story, if any, or even the point at all. Fortunately it is well-written, putting aside the language barrier I experienced in the teeth of reading it, making it unboring to read after all.

At the end, I must say that Lolita is indeed a marvelous work of literary fiction, a unique, peculiar creation of human story about sex, lust and love, blended with psychological problem and children’s confusion in their growing-up stage. Lolita is definitely not an easy read, but it seems a must to read it to broaden our horizon and to see the other side of human and humanity, though in a haze.

Rating: 3.5/5

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