Thursday 5 December 2013
Lies, damn lies and Lolita
I ordered Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov from the library for Banned Books Week and it has taken me this long to listen to it. I am having a hard time getting my head around this because I felt subverted by it. I felt like I was listening to a love story, and had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't, the voice is so persuasive. It reminded me somewhat of Engleby by Sebastian Faulks, that I also listened to on audiobook, two years ago. Engleby is another character who tells a tale full of self-justification and you are similarly lulled by his story and constantly having to remember that you are only getting one side. Books with only one character are unusual, and it feels like Lolita has only one character, because we learn nothing that can be relied upon about anyone else. Humbert Humbert paints the portrait of himself as the devoted admirer, he puts Lolita up on a pedestal and worships her, and yet at the same time he is lying to himself as much as he is lying to us, which is why the lies are so convincing. He presents the story a little like Bonnie and Clyde, as if they are outlaws on the run from a society that disapproves of their love affair, so you feel from the beginning that things are unlikely to end well for him. He tries to give the impression of a power relationship between the two of them; he holds her captive with the threat of being taken in to care if she reveals the truth of their relationship to anyone, but at the same time implies that she can give or withhold favours to extract from him whatever she wants, he often finds himself prostrate before her contempt. He both loves indulging her and then at times resents what he perceives as her manipulation of him. He lives in fear that she will somehow escape him, and as time passes his neuroses and paranoia become almost as consuming than his passion for her. He loves her, wants only her, he compares other 'nymphettes' to her and finds them lacking, and yet the things that he wants about her are transient. It is the ultimate objectification, he desires the thing that is Lolita, not the person. He avoids pretty much talking about sex, because he wants the reader to believe it is a story of love and not mere lust. He focusses instead on her dewey eyelashes and her golden midriff, the soles of her feet and her delicate fingers. He chops her up into little pieces and loves each of them, as if he cannot see her as a complete person. He admits towards the end that he does not know her, has never bothered to know her, in all the time they spend together they do not talk about anything meaningful. And as the listener I found I was so wrapped up in his emotions and reactions to events that there was no space to think about what Dolores might have been feeling. I came to the conclusion that this is the power of the story, that you cannot escape his head, and as such you understand and almost sympathise with his final act, why he has to take his revenge on the person who destroyed his idyll. But the mere fact of almost sympathising makes me feel disturbed, you feel pity for him, but I am not sure he deserves it.