Sunday Book Review: Lolita

I finished reading Lolita last week. It took me a while because originally I started reading it for my writer’s book group and didn’t finish it on time. After our meeting, other obligations rolled in and it wasn’t until summer that I found time to pick it up again. Once I began again, I couldn’t put it down.

The fact that you spend the entire story in the warped point of view of a narcissistic, delusional pedophile holds a valuable lesson regarding writing. I’m not going to review Lolita here. That has been done and the status of the novel as a classic and the fact that the writing is fantastic isn’t arguable. What I want to talk about is the lesson the book offered me as a writer.

We are all of us thoroughly socialized. Our individual sense of right and wrong in any given social or moral dilemma has been years in the making. We judge without thinking about it. We act to the best of our ability in accordance with the rules we have internalized. This reality is the primary cause of boundaries between people of different socioeconomic statuses.

Our desire to be good people can be a crutch in our writing.

It is extremely hard to create characters outside of our own boundaries of morality and propriety convincingly. It requires objectivity and a commitment to character and story and a faith that the characters we write are not projections of ourselves. They are fiction.  Writing fiction requires stepping outside the self and into other.

Is it just me that finds that task to be the greatest challenge of the work we do?

Humbert Humbert is the perfect villain. He thinks he is really quite good: good intentions, good looking, highly intelligent, and charming. It is entirely up to the reader to read between the lines and see Humbert as he truly is: predatory and gross.

This extreme example of flawless characterization serves a model for all character-building. The consistency and depth of detail Nabokov employs in rendering his villain really shouldn’t be missed. lolita


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