Lolita, Paperback
5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita is one of the best-known novels of the 20th century: the controversial story of Humbert Humbert who falls in love with twelve year old Lolita, beautifully repackaged as part of the Penguin Essentials range. 'Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of my tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.

Lo. Lee. Ta.' Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged, frustrated college professor.

In love with his landlady's twelve-year-old daughter Lolita, he'll do anything to possess her.

Unable and unwilling to stop himself, he is prepared to commit any crime to get what he wants.

Is he in love or insane? This is a silver-tongued poet or a pervert? It is a tortured soul or a monster? Or is he all of these?




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Review by

I read this book the first time in my late teens and was absolutely horrified. Since then I have reread the story several times and every time I am astonished anew, also this time I listened to the unabridged audiobook version narrated by Jeremy Irons who did a marvelous job at reading this story. French academic and literary scholar Humbert Humbert comes to America to renew his life after his divorce in France and a prolonged stay in a psychiatric hospital. Soon he meets Dolores Haze the 11 year old daughter of his new landlady and widow Mrs. Haze. Dolores his LOLITA – LO-LEE-TA. <i>“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”</i> So what is it what makes a book about a pedophile so fascinating? In an almost perfect way, Nabokov describes the pedophile Humbert Humbert, without judgment, without representing the sex offender as a bad person, and alone for this reason the story is so impressive. Here, it is the style which is so clearly manipulative and ironic. The plot is predictable, and Nabokov succeeds again and again to outline detailed possible actions and then allow them to collapse into themselves. We feel the love of Humbert towards his Lolita – without him never acknowledging the GIRL Dolores – and we quickly recognize the depths such illness brings with it. One is constantly torn between disgust and comprehension, between pity and hatred. On top of that Humbert is a smart storyteller, who often tries to manipulate the reader with incredible questionable arguments; trying to justify his acts and desires. The further the story moves along, the more he loses the outlook on reality and becomes more and more victim to paranoia. We do not just see Humbert’s obsessive and insatiable lust for the young Lolita, but we also see what life with him does to her, how she cries at night, how she learns to manipulate him to achieve her own ends, how she grows to hate him more and more.<i>“She considered me as if grasping all at once the incredible -- and somehow tedious, confusing and unnecessary -- fact that the distant, elegant, slender, forty-year-old valetudinarian in velvet coat sitting beside her had known and adored every pore and follicle of her pubescent body. In her washed-out gray eyes, strangely spectacled, our poor romance was for a moment reflected, pondered upon, and dismissed like a dull party, like a rainy picnic to which only the dullest bores had come, like a humdrum exercise, like a bit of dry mud caking her childhood.”</i> We are shown a story of decadence and decline, the beautiful ugliness of corruption presented with a narrator who manages to persuade us to sympathize with him from time to time, even so that he is a ruthless and despicable villain. Nabokov’s use of language and translation of a difficult topic into literature – well, absolutely amazing!

Review by

For once it's easy to choose Goodreads' 5-star rating for a book, given that the rollover reminds us this means 'it was amazing' rather than the 4-star 'I really liked it.' <em>Lolita</em> was amazing. I'm not sure I really liked it. I'm very glad I read it. I doubt I'll ever read it again. <br/><br/>I suppose the most astonishing, and uncomfortable, single aspect of a generally astonishing and uncomfortable book is that for 350 pages it locates us squarely inside the mind, the emotions, the urges and the actions of what must surely be one of the most venal, vainglorious, pathetically evil characters in all of literature. Humbert Humbert is intelligent, educated, witty and eloquent, and as such his confession/memoir, delivered through the veil of his own justifications and excuses, is shockingly seductive. In the course of our time with him we find ourselves laughing at his jokes, agreeing with his assessments, recognising his dilemmas. When his true nature shines through - and this is a negative shine, as it were, chinks of purest black in the light, bright armour of his self-aggrandisement - the pure horror of it is so overwhelming that it is, paradoxically, easier to ignore than to focus on. We don't want to go there. We don't want to comprehend what those flashes of unvarnished truth tell us is really happening to Lolita. His endless expositions of undying love and amused observations on the idiosyncrasies of early adolescence are so much easier to bear. And because he is unable even at the end, when the horror he has wrought can finally no longer be concealed even from himself, to acknowledge that his Lolita was never more than an innocent victim, and he never less than the most guilty of predators, he remains, for me at least, irredeemable.<br/><br/>Because in some ways his greatest crime is this: Lolita is never a person to him, never an entity in her own right, never a being entitled to <em>any</em> rights. She exists only in relation to him. He defines her nature, implicitly, in terms of his own reactions to her. The notion that he might be, indeed <em>should</em> be, completely incidental is not one he can countenance. And the greatest tragedy of the book is that because he never challenges, never <em>wants</em> to challenge, his own duplicitous perception, he makes of it a reality. Lolita is, in the end, what he has made her, and no more. We are unable to know her except as he has known her. Her life is truncated by his understanding of it.<br/><br/>It is easy to see why <em>Lolita</em> is on virtually every best-book list since the middle of the 20th century. It deserves to be there. It's a book that should be read, and talked about, and thought about. Should it be enjoyed? Well yes, for its mastery if not its subject matter. Nabokov's achievement is superlative. The style and structure of the thing, the framing devices and concatenation of tales, the pearls of prose, the characterisations, the sheer thrust and power of the narrative, are literally breathtaking. Readers talk about being transported, and it is a book that is deeply moving in every sense. For a writer it is an awe-inspiring work, an intensely difficult story to pull off in the purely technical sense made to look easy by the sheer lyrical bravura of the author. There is much to learn here - and be intimidated by.

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