I usually wade in strongly on the ‘literary quality is the most important thing’ side of debates. I think of myself as putting the writer’s ability first, and that age-old argument of not liking books if they have dislikeable characters has never made any sense to me. “I’m above such things,” thought I, smugly, dusting my doctorate and twirling my imaginary moustache.
But, dear reader, it turns out I’m nothing like as objective and scholarly as I liked to believe. Because I gave up on p.16 of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov because it was – and stop me if I’m blinding you with my critical vocabulary – too icky.
Apparently I just can’t stomach a man fantasising about nine year old girls. I know that Nabokov isn’t advocating paedophilia (well, I assume he wasn’t), and I know that Lolita is well-recognised as a classic. The writing was good (although I have to say I wasn’t quite as bowled over by it as some people said I’d be) but I couldn’t get past that.
I don’t know why I’m feeling quite so conflicted about my stumbling block. The argument I’ve put to myself is that I’m fine with reading murder mysteries, so why can’t I read Lolita – but then I remembered that I’m incapable of reading anything gory or violent, so… statutory rape and a character fantasising about it is also in that category, it seems.
This is not a ‘burn the books’ situation – I don’t think Lolita should be banned, or anything like that. I actually think it probably makes me less of a reader to have this inability. But I would be intrigued to know your opinions on the matter… and, more than that, if there are other Nabokov novels I should read instead! I’ve only read Mary so far, so plenty to try….