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“Lolita” provides a unique perspective

Malcolm Streitfeld

Anchor Staff Writer

Image via Malcolm Streitfeld

Editor’s Note: This review discusses themes of sexual abuse.

A while back, I stumbled across Vladimir Nabokov’s semi-fictional autobiography, “Look at the Harlequins!” at a Little Library. As I read through, Nabokov’s surreal way of painting settings and characters became especially intriguing. He seems to dance from page to page, dousing the reader in swathes of strange metaphors and complex meaning. Since I enjoyed reading “Look at the Harlequins!” it was inevitable that I would eventually start on his most famous work, “Lolita.” The voyage through this novel was a surprising and hazy one to be certain.

“Lolita” follows a middle aged sexual predator named Humbert and his love-affair with an early adolescent girl named Dolores. Dubbing Dolores his “Lola” or “Nymphet,” Humbert pursues a secret relationship with her. However, Humbert’s disturbing fantasy eventually starts to crumble around him, forcing him to resort to more drastic measures to keep Dolores under his watch. This desire for control may just prove his undoing.

I admire Nabokov’s ability to be so bold and professional in creating a lead character as unreliable as Humbert. It takes this level of professionality to tackle pedophilia as a literary theme and confront it such a grave manner. 

Psychologically, this book is fascinating. At various points, it felt like Nabokov was challenging me to discern what parts of the story were true and what parts were embellishments crafted by Humbert to hide his true intentions. It’s not entirely obvious at first what’s really going on. You have to parse the real sequence of events out from the tapestry of trickery that Humbert has created. A lot of it is also up to interpretation, so it’ll be up to you in the end to decide what really happened.

Nabokov seemingly wrote this book in an attempt to understand mental disorders through his own often warped perspective. By letting us see what the world looks like through the eyes of Humbert, he presents a detestable and foreign perspective on life. It’s not often you get a story that delves so much into the mind of an abhorrent individual such as this. In this case, “Lolita” entrances the reader with what seems like a straightforward story at first and then teaches them how to pick it apart. It provides a valuable lesson on how to dig deep into characters’ intentions while confronting a solemn topic.

Dark themes aside, the novel’s quality of writing was apparently creative. Nabokov also had a condition known as grapheme color synesthesia. He saw different letters and numbers in different colors. I can’t help but wonder if this unique way of looking at the world influenced his curiously dreamlike writing style. Reading “Lolita” is like wandering through a nightmare, except you’re the chaser instead of the one being chased. Sometimes my eyes just flew over the pages, soaking in scenes that were always richly detailed flowers of exquisite beauty and curious rapturous wonder.

Go pick up “Lolita,” for its mysterious qualities and unique perspective on bringing dark themes into literary conversation.


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