Author – Vladimir Nabokov
Genre – Literature, Psychiatry
I wasn’t sure whether to include this book or not. The plot is diabolical: middle-aged man having a year-long physical relationship with an under-age 12 year old, who later becomes his step-daughter. But yet, there it remained, one of the world’s most-read books, selling more than 60 millioncopies, and constantly featuring in all critical reviews.
The book is disturbing and yet a master-piece. Wonderful prose, witty quips, passionate and playful, erotic and eccentric. A thoroughly gross subject, but then why are we enjoying reading it? Isn’t the protagonist a criminal, a monster? But why do we feel a sense of empathy towards him, even if quite logically we know he is wrong? His sins are unpardonable, and in my mind I have thought of dozens of different, more palatable, story-lines (why couldn’t he use an 18 year old girl as his object of desire!). We cannot condone him, but in a strange way that probably reflects our own skeletons, we tend to understand him.
If it were any other author, the plot would be black & white: a dark incestuous murderer is the obvious villain. But Nabokov brings H.H’s (the narrator and the protagonist) feelings and psyche alive… his love for his Lolita is real, and in many ways it is a believable love story: Raw passion that blindly seeks its object of desire. But, on consummation, still finds himself dissatisfied. Love gives way to insecurity, fear, even boredom. The same person you longed to be with, ceases to be so amorous and the reality of co-habitation is a far cry from our original fantasies. You realize you never really stop craving for your fantasy, because you never really fully achieve it! While the prose is brilliant (Nabokov was Russian but one of the best English writers one would come across), the story-line is tragic. Dolly, Lolita, could have been so much more, a brilliant actor or a star tennis player, but the sins engulf her and him. Depraved, her innocence snatched,a promising life is wasted in smoke.
Why should you read the book: Just for the wonderful prose and a gripping story line. How to make your readers get into the mind of the narrator and start feeling for him. To probe and introspect our passions and feelings. To understand what is right and what is wrong. A morbid reminder of what happens when we manipulate the ones we are supposed to nurture.