Not long ago I read Vladimir Nabokov's (1899 to 1971) Pale Fire and was totally taken in my the beauty of the language and the sheer originality of the book. I loved Pale Fire. Of course I knew it was not his most famous book and also not the book that he himself set most store on.
Lolita is a book about a lot of things. In the mind's of those who have not read it and never will it is about a middle aged pedophile in love with his step daughter. If we say a man has a "Lolita Complex" people will have an idea what you mean. I was trying to think who the previous author might be who had created the name for a complex of some kind and I had to go back to Sophocles to come up with an author's name. Lolita is already considered by many to be a classic and it appears on a lot of best 100 novels of all times list. The success of this book gave Nabokov the ability to write full time.
The lead male character of the book, who calls himself Humbert Humbert, is a very cultivated European who by circumstances not fully of his own choosing is living in America. One of the themes of the book is the seeming contrast of European culture and decadence with American naivety and obsession with consumerism.
As I began to read Lolita, of course I already knew the basics of the book before starting it (or at least I thought I did). I was really struck by the beauty of the language then I was a bit shocked by what he was talking about. It seems Nabokov is trying to pull from us a response that makes us feel partially complicit in what happens. The fact that Lolita herself has such few redeeming qualities makes it hard to care about what is happening to her. Of course given how she was raised it is not surprising that she has serious issues.
It is hard to care about Lolita even though she is a terribly abused and exploited young girl. I think this is somehow a commentary on the fact that those who seem "nice and sweet" get more of our sympathy than others, no matter how young they are.
I am not inclined to feel a need to post a lot about Lolita. It is exquisitely written by one of the master prose stylists of the English language. It is not a celebration of pedophilia, quite the opposite.
A very interesting pairing of reads might be Lolita and Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki. Naomi (1924) is about a man's obsession and virtual enslavement by a 14 year old girl.
Of Pale Fire and Lolita I guess I would suggest Lolita first for the sake of its great fame but do not deprive yourself of the pleasure of Pale Fire.
If anyone has any suggestions as to my third Nabokov please leave a comment.
Also please leave a comment as to whether or not you think Lolita or Pale Fire will still be in print and widely read in 2060.