We've Gotta Have it
Jeffrey Epstein's favorite book is also the perfect guide to how he got away with it for so long.
Jeffrey’s Epstein’s favorite book was Lolita. He carried a copy everywhere he went. He spirited female children to his private island in a private plane nicknamed “The Lolita Express.” It’s not surprising that Jeffrey Epstein took the child molester Humbert Humbert as his spirit guide. But he was a careless and shallow reader. Or maybe he fell asleep before the end of the book.
Lolita is a perfect guide to how Epstein got away with it for so long. The book is a manual of misdirection. For nearly the entire novel, Nabokov allows Humbert his mellifluous sentences and droll descriptions of roadside America, everything from cheap motel rooms to unfortunate picnics. Humbert tells his story so entertainingly that we fail to entirely take in that he is a murderer, kidnapper and child rapist. The evidence is there all along, right in plain sight. Nabokov doesn’t cheat.
Then, having lulled and seduced us with feats of language, Nabokov brutally turns up the house lights. Stripped of his fancy prose Humbert Humbert can be seen for exactly what he is. And so can we. At the end of the book, Nabokov holds up a mirror to his readers and we know ourselves for who we are: people who were willing to look away. In our heedless enjoyment of Humbert’s language, we connive in his crimes.
Humbert Humbert had his way with words. Jeffrey Epstein had his way with money. Both ended up in prison cells, though not before having ruined many lives. Nabokov gives Humbert the gift of understanding the evil he has done; Humbert says of himself “a maniac deprived Dolores Haze of her childhood.” As with Humbert, the evidence of Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes was there all along. And some of the brightest and most successful people in the country chose to look away.
Ann Banks is a journalist and writer living in New York. She’s written for The New York Times Magazine and Book Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, and Condé Nast Traveler. Selections of her essays may be found at annbanks.blogspot.com.