Lolita is a 1955 novel written by Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov written in first-person narrative. The narrator, a French literature professor who moves to New England and writes under the pseudonym Humbert Humbert, becomes infatuated with a 12 year old girl named Dolores. Privately, he calls her “Lolita”, the Spanish nickname for Dolores. The novel was originally written in English, but fear of censorship in the U.S. (where Nabokov lived) and Britain led to it being first published in Paris, France, in 1955 by Olympia Press.

Source: Lolita (Wikipedia)

As a book, I felt like I knew what Lolita was about, love of a young girl. But then again, I had no idea what sort of journey I was in for. I think that I was caught up in the myth around the book and had never considered the reality.

I was intrigued to read Lolita after Nick Cave mentioned his father reading it to him when he was a child.

‘I can still remember the things he would say where he placed an emphasis on the importance of style. Style over content. I’m the same now. I’ve always been a style-over-content man, really. It’s not so much the content that interests me as the way it is said. Anyway, when Dad first read me Lolita he was excited by the sheer use of language, not what it was about. In some respects, it’s very inappropriate to turn a twelve-year-old boy on to Lolita. It’s an adult book. But my father would say there is more benefit than harm in it.’

Source: Boy on Fire by Mark Mordue

Thinking that seemed weird, I thought I would dive in.

Personally, I was often unsure whether to laugh or cry. For on the one hand, as a character, Hubbert is just so serious at times that he seems almost absurd, but on the other hand, how can somebody laugh at rape?

Above all Lolita seems to me an assertion of the power of the comic spirit to wrest delight and truth from the most outlandish materials. It is one of the funniest serious novels I have ever read; and the vision of its abominable hero, who never deludes or excuses himself, brings into grotesque relief the cant, the vulgarity, and the hypocritical conventions that pervade the human comedy.

Source: Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov – Review from September 1958 by Charles J. Rolo

The first time I read Lolita I thought it was one of the funniest books I’d ever come on. (This was the abbreviated version published in the Anchor Review last year.) The second time I read it, uncut, I thought it was one of the saddest. I mention this personal reaction only because Lolita is one of those occasional books which arrive swishing behind them a long tail of opinion and reputation which can knock the unwary reader off his feet.

Source: The Tragedy of Man Driven by Desire by Elizabeth Janeway

With scarifying wit and masterly descriptive power, he excoriates the materialist monstrosities of our civilization – from progressive education to motel architecture, and back again through the middle-brow culture racket to the incredible vulgarity and moral nihilism in which our children of all classes are raised, and on to psychoanalysis and the literary scene. He stamps indelibly on every page of his book the revulsion and disgust with which he is inspired, by loathsomely dwelling upon a loathsome plot: a detailed unfolding of the long-continued captivity and sexual abuse of a 12-year-old girl. To drive home the macabre grotesquerie of what he sees about him, he climaxes the novel with a murder that is at the same time horrible and ridiculous, poised between Grand Guignol and Punch & Judy.

Source: A Lance Into Cotton Wool by Frank S. Meyer

I was left thinking about Elizabeth Janeway’s argument that, “Humbert is all of us.”

In the first place, its illicit nature will both shock the reader into paying attention and prevent sentimentally false sympathy from distorting his judgment. Contrariwise, I believe, Mr. Nabokov is slyly exploiting the American emphasis on the attraction of youth and the importance devoted to the ‘teen-ager’ in order to promote an unconscious identification with Humbert’s agonies. Both techniques are entirely valid. But neither, I hope, will obscure the purpose of the device: namely, to underline the essential, inefficient, painstaking and pain-giving selfishness of all passion, all greed—of all urges, whatever they may be, that insist on being satisfied without regard to the effect their satisfaction has upon the outside world. Humbert is all of us.

Source: The Tragedy of Man Driven by Desire by Elizabeth Janeway

One of the strange things about the book is how it oddly manages to grip you as a reader.

The shocking subject matter, gleefully punning unreliable narrator, and Nabokov’s spellbinding sentence-level prowess combined to create a book as repulsive as it was inviting—comic and horrific and utterly absorbing.

Source: Sick, Scandalous, Spectacular: The First Reviews of Lolita

There is a lot said about the language (this is why Nick Cave was introduced to the novel), but I was also caught up in the cinematic nature of the novel and the way that it captures the world.

I remember reading that Thomas Pynchon went to the same university where Vladimir Nabokov taught and never really understood why that was so important until I read Lolita. There is something about blurring the line in both writers.