I tried the print version and it didn't stick. I had borrowed it from the Yale library, which lends books for 6 months at a time, thinking that would be long enough. But after I'd had it for a month, and read sixteen pages, somebody requested it and I had to give it back. I heard a piece on NPR about the audio version, read by Jeremy Irons, who plays H.H. in the movie, and whom I saw play King Arthur in a recent one-night Hollywood Bowl performance of Camelot, and mentioned it to my roommate L, who picked up the CDs for me while at the library. There's so much that could be said about this story, but I don't feel equipped or qualified to delve into the issues. So I'll mention a few things for Meera's pleasure. Or dismay. We'll see.
First, on the audio version: I wouldn't have survived it in print. So much of this book's appeal is in the texture of the words, and Jeremy Irons reads it so that I can experience the sound, whereas were I reading it myself, I would be completely lost. The audio version also forced progression; even if I became distracted by a dog-walker or telling the bus driver my stop, Humbert Humbert was still there, describing his love's prefect collarbone. Listening to the book only made me want to watch the movie again. I'll probably do that tonight or tomorrow.
I have to admit, I only half-listened to most of the book. It's not that it was boring, though I don't think I missed too much in the way of plot. Let me try to explain. In movies, when there is a fight scene, I perceive that as filler, rather than meaningful content. For instance, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was about 20 minutes long for me. Kill Bill was 5 minutes. It's as if the fighting just didn't exist. In Lolita, the same thing happened with the French. As I don't speak French, it meant nothing to me, and my brain omitted it. But more importantly, my brain also skips over English words I don't know. For someone who reads as much as I do, I have a pretty small vocabulary, so there were quite a few words my brain skipped.
The novel created in me the same feelings as the movie did: a strange mix of disgust and compassion for Humbert Humbert. Through the story, I kept alternating from thinking, "Oh my god, he should be locked up, I can't believe there are people like this," and, "but he loves her...." While Lolita was consistently a little snot, a complete brat, it was only through his description of her that her appeal was apparent.
These feelings were so complete throughout the novel that I didn't think the end was even necessary. I didn't need H.H. to be rejected by Lolita, to learn that she was only humoring him, and to see him act on his resulting rage. I understand that it provides closure and explains the premise (that he's incarcerated), but it didn't supply much more emotionally. The one thing it does is make me wonder about Lolita's character. How would she have written the story? Does she realize how screwed-up she is?
It seemed like throughout their romance, H.H. was trying to keep Lolita innocent, even though she never was innocent to begin with. He thought she was a normal little girl, with comic books and bubble gum. We gradually learn that there's a lot more going on with her, but we don't really find out the whole story.
One more thing: I think it's interesting how H.H. calls her all sorts of different names: Lolita, Dolores, Lo, Dolly, etc. I wonder if there's some significance to their usage.