In a way I have been delaying writing about my favourite novel, Lolita by Nabokov because I am worried I will not be able to do it justice. I have to, however, use this novel as Day 1 of the challenge as it is as much my favourite book as it can be, although labeling it such causes uneasiness. Maybe it is that feeling you had as a child when choosing which toy was your “favourite”…
My definition of a novel worthy of being a ‘favourite’ is its ability to get inside your mind. Nabokov is a master of this. He leads his reader down a winding road, literally in Lolita and plays games with the reader’s imagination. As you look deeper into the writing, patterns and recurring motifs become clearer and clearer, till every word becomes a clue. The roadtrip which Humbert and Lolita embark upon is a game of cat-and-mouse, except this game is being played in the narrator’s mind, and therefore the reader’s mind. The character which Quilty plays is fascinating, and an aspect of the novel I only became aware of while reading the annotated version. Appel, the annotator, describes the novel as a “parody of death with real suffering”. In this instance, parody does not mean a mockery as such, but an imitation – as writers are reflecting life while distorting it into the novel they want to write, the reflection is not true and can be called a deformed version. The idea of real suffering, however, is one that I have found to permeated through almost all literature. Why it is so prominent in Lolita is because the awareness the reader have of it being a fictional story causes the reality of the pain to become increasingly conspicuous. In the Annotated Version, Appel recounts putting on a puppet show for his children; suddenly the whole set collapsed and the children could see their father moving the puppets. Having been engrossed in the story, this caused there to be a moment of being utterly lost, what they had believed for a certain amount of time was suddenly grabbed off them. Then, he says, they laughed and laughed. I love this anecdote because it captures the belief we have for stories and novels, and that there is a twilight zone between believing and seeing reality once more. Lolita is within that twilight zone, and the ethereal charm radiates off its pages.
I understand how the subject of Lolita is controversial, but I think focusing on this aspect betrays the purpose of the novel. It is, in fact, hugely ironic that this is often the case. Over half of the books were returned to the library half read, presumably because it wasn’t graphic enough; people like being shocked and reading on what is taboo. To add to this irony, it is only at the end that we discover that yes, these pages do contain horrific acts being committed, but outside of the reader’s, and Humbert’s, knowledge. Furthermore, someone once asked me if I thought it encouraged people to empathise with pedophilia; I do not agree with this at all. Indeed, it may show people that it is not a welcomed affliction, but the novel in no way condones it. The very fact that it is written as a testimony reveals how Humbert is in the wrong and will be punished. The pages are filled with such suffering; nobody is happy, and poor Dolores ends up being the epitome of an unhappy housewife. Humbert wants her to remain forever a child, but this is not possible, and this want of his does nothing but ruin her life. Even when she is being a sulky child, the reader is inclined to empathise with her, not Humbert. Having written this paragraph, it may seem concerning that this remains my so-called “favourite book”, but this is an interesting aspect of the novel that needs to be discussed.
I think that a re-read of this book may be needed soon, will add quotes and the like when I do