, Nabokov manages to take something good, corrupt it and yet make it look almost palatable, and he does this without overt Clockwork Orange
-style emotional manipulation. In that work, it's almost impossible to miss themes like Government, free will and choice. Lolita
offers a much more honest and yet complicated view of the pro/antagonist (woven by an author not writing in his native tongue!).
Much has already been made of H.H.'s narration (is it reliable?), Nabokov's style (he's clearly a master auteur, but does Lolita
make him out to be a pervert or a clever satirist?) and themes of love (are H.H.'s actions consistent with our definition of love?), so I won't go there. I will, however, quickly note that the prose was among the best I have read as of late; Nabokov writes engagingly and I didn't once feel bored by the (at times overly descriptive?) narration.
The hardest part of Nabokov's job is to convince the reader that someone as bad as H.H. is still worth reading about. And even while he plots murder and sedation and all manner of other vile behaviour, the reader is given no choice but to follow H.H. down that path. This is partly due to H.H.'s deliberate flattening of other characters so as to enhance the credibility of his own life story (here are shades of unreliability) and partly due to his insistence that he loves Lolita (who can argue with such a blanket term as love
?). Perhaps the reader wants to see H.H. redeemed and thus (un?)consciously decides to root for him? At any rate, despite his many sins, it's all too easy to take pity on H.H.. Indeed, when H.H.. had his showdown with Clare Quilty, I (as reader) was rooting for H.H..
I certainly don't condone H.H.'s willingness to trample on the rights of others. But even despite my general dislike for the character, in some strange way Nabokov injects much life into him so that he becomes a wonderful tragic character. And for that I must give Nabokov all the credit, for H.H. is more vivid and and yet more subtle than Alex of A Clockwork Orange
and more tuned to our modern way of thinking than many of Shakespeare's tragic heroes.
I read Lolita
in about two days, but I suspect that the literary themes presented therein will stick with me for much longer than that. Bravo to Nabokov.