Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, Alfred A Knopf, 1955, 327 pp
Disclaimer: I do not pretend to be any kind of expert on Nabokov. I have read five of the novels he published in English. Some I liked, some I hardly understood. His use of irony is so deep and sometimes so obscure that I cannot always follow where he wants to take me.
I read Lolita in 2004, out of desperation. Trying to read Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Hafisi, I became confused and lost and about to give up when I had the bright idea to read the books she discusses. I don't feel totally comfortable with books about sexual abuse of children. Just feel squeamish about that. I ended up admiring Lolita but I was not completely sure that the author wanted me to. Here are my humble thoughts about the book.
Humboldt Humboldt is a perverted middle-aged European man who lives in America and has a thing for pre-pubescent girls. Lolita is twelve when the book begins. Humboldt marries Lolita's mother, who dies, and then seduces Lolita. He keeps her secretly captive as his sex slave, using fear and bribery.
For a year they travel the United States. Nabokov's description of cheap motels, tourist attractions and American people is deadly. It struck me as another version of Steinbeck's The Wayward Bus. Also his creation of the character of a teenage girl is quite accurate.
Lolita finally escapes him, but unlike say White Oleander, you don't get Lolita's inner world except as perceived by Humboldt. So for me, this was a creepy, eerie book interlaced with humor. The theme seemed to be the relationship of suppressor and suppressed, which extrapolates to totalitarian regimes as well as any authoritarian system, hence the reason those women were reading Lolita in Tehran. I have no desire to read this book ever again.