Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

‘Lolita’ by Vladimir Nabokov tells the story of Humbert Humbert and his obsession with twelve year old Dolores Haze also known as Lolita.  Humbert marries her mother, Charlotte, to be closer to Lolita and after her sudden death, Humbert becomes sexually involved with Lolita and they travel around the United States.  The themes of obsession and loss of innocence are dark and so is the humour in this densely written classic which is still as controversial today as it was when it was first published in the 1950s.

Given the subject of the novel, I still don’t know if I would say I enjoyed reading ‘Lolita’ as such but I certainly came to appreciate why it regularly features in lists of the greatest novels of the 20th century.  I love books with unreliable narrators and Humbert Humbert has got to be the most unreliable of unreliable narrators.  His twisted explanations for his perverse behaviour and obsession with young girls or ‘nymphets’ as he calls them alongside his later claims that he is not proud of what he has done without attempting to hide it are written brilliantly and really play on the emotions of the reader.  As well as being highly articulate and intelligent, we see that Humbert is also pathetic, weak, warped and arrogant.  I found the second half of the story weaker than the first half but the inevitability of Lolita growing up still leads to a powerful ending.

‘Lolita’ was first published in 1955.  As well as the conflicting emotions I felt whilst reading the book because of Humbert’s skewed view of what he did, I also found myself wondering what sort of reaction there would be if a book with the same themes and told with a similar sort of black humour was published today.  Would people buy it and read it or would it only cause outrage amongst Daily Mail journalists?  I guess it would depend on who was writing it but for now, ‘Lolita’ remains a true one-off.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

  1. Lolita is one of my favorite books, and an amazing example of a great author’s ability to get inside the heads of even his disturbed characters and make them feel alive. It plumbs some depths of psychology that make people feel uncomfortable, which is largely the point, and you’re right, I doubt a book published today would fare as well it has (surprisingly). There are a few directors who I think are attempting similar things, but they aren’t mainstream. Ditto with authors who I’m sure are also trying.

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  2. Lolita is one of those books I have been planning to read for years It is sitting on my shelf… one of these days I am going to actually read it! Thanks for the reminder.

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  3. ha ha! I love what you said about Humbert Humbert being the most unreliable of unreliable narrators! it’s a creepy read, but yes, still a well-written one

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  4. Thanks for a great review. I have to confess, like Susan, that Lolita is one of those books that I’ve had in my bookshelf for years, and still have to read… So many books, so little time!

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  5. And Nabokov manages to make HH makes us feel sorry for HH. Neat trick, that one.

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  6. I held the same appreciation for Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. Disturbing book, but admired the way he pulled it off.

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  7. I love Lolita. It is brilliantly written and such a controversial theme that opens the eyes of the reader to the thought processes of these mentally disturbed people. It is definitely one everyone should read!

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  8. The story goes that Nabokov rode buses in Ithaca, NY (where he was teaching at the time) to listen to the young girls to help fashion some of the dialogue for the novel. I lived near Ithaca for a while, and rode some of the same bus routes. I’m thinking the language had changed by the time I was riding, as I don’t remember a lot of hyphenated obscenities in Nabokov’s tome.

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  9. malinkasstudio

    This is a great review! I wanted to read this book for years and I am sure that I will do it shortly!

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  10. The Tripping Pencil

    I have just finished reading this:)

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  11. Everyone who reads this book execrates Humbert, but I like him very much. Nabokov hid the key to his character too successfully, and so he comes across a s a very unsympathetic person, when in fact he is not. This is a very sly novel, and the surprising secret it hides throughout is redemption.

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  13. Matthew (Bibliofreak.net)

    One of my favourite books – to those that have it on a shelf somewhere, pick it up and give it a go! Also, I felt much like bereccaryan, that American Psycho evokes a similar response. Both are masterly examples of using grotesque violence/abuse intelligently and to challenge the reader. Great discussion started by an interesting post.

    If you’re interested, my own review of Lolita is here: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

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  14. Its not a book to be savoured but I loved the beauty of words. It’s a hateful masterpiece of sorts but the prose is awesome.
    If you are interested you can read my review at http://www.iloveyoubooks@wordpress.com.
    Would definitely read more from you.

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