Lolita

by Vladimir Nabokov

Paperback, 1989

Collection

Publication

Vintage (1989), 317 pages

Description

The story of a middle-aged college professor's passion for a honey-skinned, pubescent girl is one of the most evocative depictions of unrequited love in the language.

Media reviews

The Atlantic
Haven’t we been conditioned to feel that Lolita is sui generis, a black sheep, a bit of tasteful, indeed ‘beautiful’ erotica, and that Nabokov himself, with this particular novel, somehow got ‘carried away’? Great writers, however, never get carried away. Even pretty average writers never get carried away. People who write one novel and then go back to journalism or accountancy (‘Louder, bitch!’) – they get carried away. Lolita is more austere than rapturous, as all writing is; and I have come to see it, with increasing awe, as exactly the kind of novel that its predecessors are pointing towards... At one point, comparing himself to Joyce, Nabokov said: ‘my English is patball to [his] champion game’. At another, he tabulated the rambling rumbles of Don Quixote as a tennis match (the Don taking it in four hard sets). And we all remember Lolita on the court, her form ‘excellent to superb’, according to her schoolmistress, but her grace ‘so sterile’, according to Humbert, ‘that she could not even win from panting me and my old fashioned lifting drive’. Now, although of course Joyce and Nabokov never met in competition, it seems to me that Nabokov was the more ‘complete’ player. Joyce appeared to be cruising about on all surfaces at once, and maddeningly indulged his trick shots on high-pressure points – his drop smash, his sidespun half-volley lob. Nabokov just went out there and did the business, all litheness, power and touch. Losing early in the French (say), Joyce would be off playing exhibitions in Casablanca with various arthritic legends, and working on his inside-out between-the-legs forehand dink; whereas Nabokov and his entourage would quit the rusty dust of Roland Garros for somewhere like Hull or Nailsea, to prepare for Wimbledon on our spurned and sodden grass.
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The Spectator
The development of this emigre’s euphuism is a likely consequence of Nabokov’s having had to abandon his natural idiom, as he puts it, his ‘untrammelled, rich and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English, devoid of any of those apparatuses —the baffling mirror, the black velvet backdrop, the implied associations and traditions—which the native illusionist, fractails flying, can magically use to transcend the heritage in his own way.’ This, which enacts the problem with characteristic tricksy indirection, also implies its solution as the laborious confection of equivalent apparatuses in the adoptive language: the whole farrago of imagery, archaism, etc., which cannot strike even the most finely tuned foreign ear as it strikes that of the native English-speaker. The end product sadly invokes a Charles Atlas muscle-man of language as opposed to the healthy and useful adult...

There comes a point where the atrophy of moral sense, evident throughout this book, finally leads to dullness, fatuity and unreality. Humbert’s ‘love’ for Lolita is a matter of the senses, even of the membranes; his moments of remorse are few, brief and unconvincing; it never really occurs to him to ask himself just what the hell he thinks he is up to. There is plenty of self-absorption around us, heaven knows, but not enough on this scale to be worth writing about at length, just as the mad are much less interesting than the sane.
Daily Mail
Brilliantly written ... a disquietingly sombre exposure of a pervert's mind, and finally dreadfully moral in its almost melodramatic summing up pf the wages of this particular sin.
The Spectator
Massive, unflagging, moral, exqusitely shaped, enormously vital, enormously funny - Lolita iscertain of a permanent place on the very highest shelf of the world's didactic literature.
Sunday Dispatch
A scarifying indictment of the kind of perversion with which it deals.
Saturday Review
I am sure that the future will exonerate Lolita from the charge of pornography as compleately as we have exonerated Ulysses.
San Francisco Chronicle
Some readers may find Lolita offensive. It is a strange combination of roman noir and hot-potato. But more accurately it is an authentic work of art which compels our immediate response and serious reflection _ a revealing and indispensable comedy of horrors.
Harper's Magazine
Above all Lolita seems to me an assertion of the power of the comic spirit to wrest delight and truth from the most outlandish materials. It is one of the funniest serious novels I have ever read.
Gazette de Lausanne
Let me add at once that this novel does not contain a single pornographic passage, nor a single indecent or coarse word and that its strange eroticism is expressed in terms which stem from art alone. It is an exceptional novel, for its quality, its resonance and its achievement.
Afterposten
To try to ignore the fact that Lolita is an unpleasant, harrowing book is as useless as to gtry to deny that it is a beautiful book. For paradoxically enough, Lolita is one of the most beautiful and one of the most brilliant descriptions of love in modern literature. ...If one wishes to see something more in it than an epic of love, it is in the highest degree a bitter and searing contemporary satire.
Kuvalehti
A masterpiece of narrative, an incredibly penetrating psychoanalytical study and brilliantly descriptive. It has been called the most depressing and most entertaining book ever written.
Politiken
Vladimir Nabokov is obviously influenced by James Joyce and T.S. Eliot - he can write a pastiche of T.S. Eliot as easily as scratching his back. . . . The novel is also a nightmare of cunning and persecution mania and strikes the strangest three-fold chord of passion, desperate humour and dramatic irony.
La Nouvelle Revue Française
Lolita is not a scandal, it is a masterpiece.
Le Monde
Unlike contemporary American novels, Lolita contains no erotics description and no coarse words. It is wholly dedicated to the hopes, emotions and agonies of this mature man who becomes the slave of the child he loves. These emotions are probably more disturbing than the most realistic physical descriptions.
Paris Presse
Lilita imposes [on the reader] a vision of the world which is new, ardent and sensitive by its surprising mixture of irony, profundity, humor, anxiety and emotion. It is also a very intelligent book. Perhaps this is why it is shocking.
Nouvelles Littéraires
It is a work of art, subtle, fragile, stylistically curious and written with a delicacy which could almost be called fastidious.
Arts
We live such petty lives that it takes us some time to get used to it when a book of this power appears.
The Lyttelton Hart-Davis letters, vol. 4
I am halfway through a borrowed copy of Lolita and must finish by Wednesday, when the Herbert Committee means to consider it and Mr. R. A. Butler. I fear that between the two of them our poor Bill may founder. So far I should say Lolita's literary value was negligible, and its pornographic level high. It is about nothing but a middle-aged man's lust for a twelve-year old girl (who has already lost her virginity to the farmer's boy and is quite ready for her elderly lover). No detail is omitted, all told with relish, and in so far as the book may well suggest to children that sex begins at eleven, I think it should not appear. Did you see that rhyme in one of the weeklies?

Goldilocks, Goldilocks, wilt thou be mine,
Although I am ninety, and thou art but nine.
Following Nabokov's earlier excellent, offbeat novels, Lolita should give his name its true dimensions and expose a wider U.S. public to his special gift—which is to deal with life as if it were a thing created by a mad poet on a spring night.
"Lolita" is a small masterpiece, an almost perfect comic novel, a rare thing in these days when we have lost sight of the purgative and pleasurable effects of comedy and when tragedy has become the small and poverty-stricken province of southern effetes and New England housewives... Far from celebrating perversion, this novel somehow communicates the utter hopelessness and bitterness of it. And not the least through the irony of Humbert Humbert's mixture of blindness and lucid vision about his obsession. He is an intelligent and gifted man but he is also a disabled man and his cleverness, his puns, his play on words, his ability to fly in the depths does not in the end save him.
"Lolita," then, is undeniably news in the world of books. Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn't worth any adult reader's attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive.
This is still one of the funniest and one of the saddest books that will be published this year. As for its pornographic content, I can think of few volumes more likely to quench the flames of lust than this exact and immediate description of its consequences.
That a book like this could be written- published here sold, presumably over the counters, leaves one questioning the ethical and moral standards. I don't agree that it has a titillating fascination that will lead any reader entry- as some feel. I do think there is a place for the exploration of abnormalities, that does not lie in the public domain. Any librarian surely will question this for anything but the closed shelves. Any bookseller should be very sure that he knows in advance that he is selling very literate pornography.

User reviews

LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel tells the story of Humbert Humbert and his obsession with Lolita, who is twelve when he first meets her. Told from the claustrophobic viewpoint of Humbert recollecting their relationship, the book can be hard to read, dealing as it does with the abduction and serial rape of a child, exclusively from the viewpoint of the rapist. Even Humbert can't pretend for long that Lolita is anything other than broken from the experiences he subjects her to.

I was told to read this book for the language and for the beautiful writing. I was told not to read this book because no woman needs to subject herself to misogynistic crap. I approached this book wondering which side would win and strongly suspecting the second. I've given up on Phillip Roth, after all, for just that reason. And aren't there enough non-misogynistic authors out there to keep me busy? Except Lolita wasn't misogynistic at all. Sure, Humbert regarded actual women with repulsion and dread. He looked at girls with either disinterest or as bodies to use to get off on. But Nabokov manages to make clear, from the depths of Humbert's delusions, that what he is doing is destroying another human being for his own momentary pleasure. And Humbert is quite a piece of work. Every event in his story is about him. When Lolita cries in pain and despair, she hurts his feelings. When Lolita's mother stands between him and his object of desire, she must be removed. This is no grand justification for pedophilia, but a shocking revelation of its costs.

And the writing is among the finest I have read. It doesn't get in the way of the story, but shines through, using the right words at the right places, seamlessly. I'll be reading more of Nabokov, and rereading this in due course.
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LibraryThing member drachenbraut23
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.

“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.”


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.

“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.”

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!
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LibraryThing member brenzi
When I first decided I wanted to read Lolita it was because I wanted to broaden my appreciation of the classics that I was sorely missing. I had a rough idea of what the story line was: I recognized that it concerned a pedophile and a young girl but beyond that I really didn’t know what to expect. I had always assumed that there was a lot of graphic sex in the story. Then again, the book received many good reviews and was generally a four or five star read for other readers. It sat on my nightstand for over a year and when I realized that last week was Banned Book Week, what better time to attempt this classic.

I was very surprised by what unfolded as I read the book. Certainly it involves a pedophile and his experience with young Delores Haze, whom he tenderly calls, Lolita. Absent is the graphic sex I had expected and present is some of the most beautiful writing I have ever had the joy of reading. Nabokov had a gift for language that was stunning to behold. I had only read one other Nabokov novel, the very light-hearted Pnin, which actually was a good springboard for getting into this meatier read.

Of course, the idea of a story about a pedophile is gruesome, but somehow in Nabokov’s hands, the beauty of the language overcomes the disgust of the storyline. You certainly feel sorry for Delores and yearn for her to escape from Humbert Humbert, as they traverse the country in their one year journey (August 1947-August 1948). He was such a complicated character though, that I’m not sure I ever actually despised him, although I disagreed with him on many levels. But the pictures Nabokov drew as the story progressed were just so beautiful and memorable that it’s very difficult to think of not liking the book because of its lewd reputation. It’s so much more than that. Picture this:
“The new and beautiful post office I had just emerged from stood between a dormant movie house and a conspiracy of poplars. The time was 9:00 a.m. mountain time. The street was Main Street. I paced its blue side peering at the opposite one :charming it into beauty, was one of those fragile young summer mornings with flashes of glass here and there and a general air of faltering and almost fainting at the prospect of an intolerably torrid noon.” Page 224

Passages like this are evident throughout the book. Nabokov paints the picture for you to see and all you can say is, “Beautiful.” Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member baswood
In the forward to Lolita; Dr John Ray jnr refers to the sorry sordid business of Humbert Humbert's "confessional" story and however much the reader may be seduced by Nabokov's literary skills this book is certainly that: sorry and sordid. It is a horrifying tale of a very intelligent psychopath: one Humbert Humbert, who in his own words; kidnaps, rapes and murders his way across America to feed his passion for sex with pubescent girls. Humbert Humbert shows many of the classic symptoms of a psychopath, he is superficially charming, totally selfish, has no thoughts for the feeling of others, no sense of responsibility, but above all he is manipulative and an inveterate liar and so demonstrably an unreliable witness. He tells us that in the past there have been periods of insanity and during the course of his current story he checks into a sanatorium, it is almost as if his confession is some sort of defence, perhaps based on a plea of criminal insanity.

Nabokov's forward has the good doctor John Ray jnr warning us that the novel; "Lolita" should make all of us; parents, social workers and educators have greater vigilance in bringing up the younger generation, which may lead us to read this novel as some sort of scare story about the dangers of paedophiles, but I think this would be a mistake. For example a strict interpretation of paedophilia; is sex with pre-pubescent girls, but Lolita was not pre-pubescent and already sexually experienced before being raped by Humbert Humbert. Legally of course paedophilia is defined as sex between a person under 16 with a person over 18, but we all know that the law is an ass, as this would place a good few of us into the category of paedophiles. I do not mean to imply that Lolita is anything other than a victim, but she is primarily the victim of a psychopath, as are many other characters that come into a more than passing contact with the monster: Humbert Humbert.

By telling Humbert Humbert's story in the first person Nabokov must convince the reader that he is party to the thoughts and actions of an extremely dangerous man, a man that is an intelligent sexual predator. This gives the author the opportunity to write some genuinely erotic prose, which is one of the reasons why this literary novel is so popular. He tells us in sensuous language of Humbert Humbert's first love affair with Annabel, which sparks his desire for other young girls and he leads the reader on, with Humbert Humberts protracted seduction of Lolita and while the reader may be seduced by the prose he should bear in mind that what Humbert Humbert is planning is date rape. Humbert Humbert cannot hide the fact that his gross sexual appetite is both painful and nauseous to Lolita and although he tries to convince us that she is a bit of a slut, it should be obvious to the reader that this is not the case.

Humbert Humbert's sophistication, his academic background and his "European" education allows Nabokov to engage in literary games and witticisms, which abound throughout. He also gets to paint a convincing portrait of his travels across America, using literary references, theatre, poetry and song. The main agenda for all this, is a demonstration of Humbert Humbert's superiority over most/all of the characters he meets; he sneers at them, he laughs at them, he satirises them and he uses them.

Much of the writing is of the highest quality and if the book is not finally convincing, then it could be on further reading. The Grand Guignol finale feels like it should not belong, but Nabokov has been leading us up to it for some time. Humbert Humbert's final journey with Lolita is a portrait of a man losing his mind, he becomes paranoid and slips in and out of insanity and so the final bloodbath should not be such a surprise. I find Nabokov's use of comedy; not always appropriate, it is as if he allows himself one joke too many. This story is a tragedy and there should be no confusion about that.

Humbert Humbert is a monster. He commits one murder that we know about, he clearly would have murdered Lolita's mother had she not fortuitously been the victim of a road traffic accident. He planned to drug and rape Lolita and then raped her anyway when the drug was not wholly successful. He took every advantage of a weakened girl when she had a fever, he continually lied, used his position of authority and used physical violence to keep the young girl his sex slave. By letting Humbert Humbert tell the story Nabokov allows him to garner sympathy from the reader. He continually professes his love for Lolita, he justifies his actions because of his inability to control his sexual urges and finally because of his creeping insanity, But these are the confessions of a highly intelligent and manipulative psychopath and we should not be laughing with him and we certainly should not believe him; if we do then we are in danger of being duped in real life. Perhaps this is Nabokov's greatest achievement and a 4.5 star read for me.
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LibraryThing member mercedesbundarra
'Lolita' is like a spoken song - it is beautiful; almost lyrical in it's language. It is one of my all-time favourite books - I can read it over and over again. The most astounding fact about the author, Vladimir Nabokov, is that English is his second language, and he wrote his first nine novels in Russian. Yet, 'Lolita' is proof of the most beautiful use of the English language.

However, Nabokov's poetical language and beautiful writing hides a very ugly and controversial topic. 'Lolita' is about a middle-aged professor, Humbert Humbert, who falls in love and becomes obsessed with a girl, Dolores Haze, who is young enough to be his daughter. Their eventual love affair, which stems to abandonment and murder, is the reason why the novel has been banned in certain countries over the years.
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LibraryThing member StephLaymon
A lot of readers have avoided Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov because it is written from a pedophile's perspective, and I have to admit that I would have certainly have passed up reading it if I wasn't expecting something much different. It turns out that I love Lolita.

One of the best things about reading is that you don't have to agree with a characters morals, or lack there of, in order to learn, grow, and enjoy a book. In this case, Humbert is more than immoral, he is dark, twisted, and quite obviously mentally ill. Which is why I allowed myself to love this book as much as I do. Nabokov quite obviously wasn't trying to pass Humbert off as someone who simply had a lifestyle preference, but instead puts the reader in the head of a seriously deranged predator.

As a long time child advocate, and someone who has worked in a field where I saw first hand the effects of sexual abuse, I have to say that I am amazed at Nabokov's ability to get it so right. He gets it so right in fact, that I was almost convinced that he might have been a pedophile himself, but that would be grossly unfair for me to make such an assumption, because honestly, he nailed writing the character of Lolita, the victim, and her behavior. Which is all very impressive for a book that was penned in a time when the cycle of sexual abuse was less discussed, and thus less known than it is even today.

You know what else I loved? The way that the author doesn't treat his reader like a ninny. He has this wonderful way of making suggestions and allowing the reader to understand via crafty writing.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is a remarkable book that has the capability of making the reader see past preconceived notions and the fear of liking something that feels like maybe one shouldn't.
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LibraryThing member RebeccaAnn
I think this is the best book I’ve read since joining LT. Stylistically, it’s amazing. I’ve never read an author with such a mastery of the English language. Thematically, it’s haunting and disturbing, yet also tragic. No character is likeable, yet you feel and cry and bleed for them all. Is it disturbing? Yes. All cases of sexual abuse are. However, through all the sadness and despair, their runs a beautiful thread of what might actually be love.

I don’t think I need to reiterate the story. It’s extremely well-known. The characters, however, are positively unbelievable. The narrator, a man obsessed with the seductive charms of prepubescent females, Humbert Humbert, is a man I fully expected to loathe. And yet, despite his awful and despicable actions, I found myself pitying him more than anything. He’s delusional and very unreliable as far as narrators go. He twists the story he’s telling until not even the reader can discern what’s really going on, and he does it masterfully. On his rendition of his first time with little Dolores, he manipulates the words so well, it seems like it was all Lolita’s fault. You have to constantly remind yourself that her mother was recently killed and she has no one else to turn to. Threatened by Humbert with reform school, she’s not in a position to resist him. When reform school no longer scares her, he bribes her for sexual favors. When he masterfully manipulates Lolita, he manipulates the reader as well.

And yet, despite this, he feels remorse. He calls himself a monster more than once. At the end, he hears a group of children playing and mourns for Lolita’s lost childhood. When Lolita is stolen from him by another child predator who wants her in his child pornography video, Humbert loses it. He drinks and becomes paranoid, going from motel to motel in a wild goose chase, thinking he sees clues in the names of former patrons. I think he loved Lolita, but he was so obsessive, manipulating, controlling, and self-absorbed and she was too young that it broke both of them.

And the language! I’ve never seen anyone able to command the Enlgish language like this. It’s beautiful. I admit I had to look several words up in the dictionary every time I read this book. After reading this, I wonder if there is a word out there Nabokov didn’t know. If the subject material is too squicky for you, I would still recommend reading this just for the language.

This is a book to be savored slowly. Read it in 15-20 page increments to fully take in the language and it’s beauty. Reflect over what you’ve read to really digest the characters and the emotions. It took me about two months to get through this book, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

5 stars!
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LibraryThing member lneedell
From the very first paragraph, it is clear that this story is being told by a master. "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." Very few writers are as much fun to read as Nabokov. Lolita is an oddly guilty pleasure: the language is highbrow, the subject matter, unsettling. Lolita is a child; the narrator's obsessive love/lust is all at once entertaining, provocative, disgusting, disturbing and wrong. The book was written at a time when style mattered very much. Nabokov romps through the English language and creates an experience that has been deemed obscene by some and of the highest literary merit by others. He is quite the tightrope walker, and it is astounding that English is not even his native language. When I see someone reading this book, I actually feel a little tinge of jealousy that they are engaged with this experience. It's just that good.… (more)
LibraryThing member Scriptopus
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.' Lolita 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.

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.

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 any 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 should be, completely incidental is not one he can countenance. And the greatest tragedy of the book is that because he never challenges, never wants 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.

It is easy to see why Lolita 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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LibraryThing member Cait86
Lolita is the story of Humbert Humbert (an alias that the narrator chooses for himself), a middle-aged man who has an unhealthy obsession with young girls between the age of 9 and 14. H.H. is writing his own life story, trying to justify the acts that have led him to imprisonment. We hear about his upbringing, his move to Paris and his first marriage, and his move to America, where he lives as a boarder in the house of Charlotte Haze, a widower whose daughter, Dolores, H.H. christens "Lolita". H.H. falls in love with Lolita, and various tragic events bring about their eventual relationship.

I knew the basics of Lolita going in to the book, so I predicted a tough read. Since Nabokov tells the story from H.H.'s point of view, the reader spends all three hundred pages in the mind of a very twisted human being. That being said, the narrator is also extremely intelligent, and extremely manipulative. His first seduction of Lolita places the young girl as the instigator, and he discribes "Lo" as someone who knows exactly what she is doing. Early on in the novel, the reader gets some hints that H.H. is a very unreliable narrator, so I seriously doubted his version of events; at the same time, Lo certainly does not come off as the innocent victim, and at times I felt myself sympathizing with H.H. This caused me understandable horror - sympathizing with such a disturbed creature! So here, I understand the brilliance of Nabokov. To create such an awful person, but then to cause the reader to feel sorry for him, is a masterful feat indeed.

Nabokov's prose is gorgeous - thick, wordy, and full of double meanings. I would love to read more of his work, but maybe something a little less disturbing.

That said, parts of Lolita dragged horribly. The beginning was quite strong, as was the end portion, but the middle took all of my stamina to get through. After awhile, H.H.'s musing became too much to handle, and too much of the same thing over and over. To be honest, I'm glad I read this book, but I don't think I will ever read it again - and I am a big rereader.

So, despite the beautiful prose and my unsettling feelings about the narrator, the labourious middle section of Lolita knocks what would have been a four-star novel down to 3.5 stars.
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LibraryThing member bexadler
I have to admit I had no idea what this book was about when I started reading it. I had read that it's one of the world's "most beautiful love stories." And I knew it was a bit illicit because of Reading Lolita in Tehran (another book I still have to read). But I had no idea it was about a pedophile who essentially kidnaps his stepdaughter and keeps her under his thumb until she's old enough and smart enough to figure out how to escape.

As I began reading this book I fully understood why some people had asked that this book be banned. After all, it kind of reads like a how-to book on pedophilia. But when the subject came up at book club, I found myself defending the book, saying that if someone read this book and thought it condoned their own behavior or it "inspired" them to do something of this sort, well they were likely to have done it anyway. I said this because I saw the reactions of the others who had read this book and all of us, whether we thought the writing was beautiful or the story interesting, were disgusted with the main character and judged him accordingly. This book isn't going to turn anybody into a pedophile who doesn't already entertain such thoughts.

The book itself is beautifully written. In the first part when Humbert Humbert is falling in love with Lolita, I was quite taken by his descriptions of her ... until I remembered that he was talking about a 12-year-old girl. I also really enjoyed the French phrases sprinkled throughout the book. I felt like each one was a little French quiz for me, especially because he offers no translation like many books do today. His descriptions of living in France and going to the Mediterranean made me think of my own time there, which is always a fun thing.

Aside from all of that though the book is really interesting and it raises a lot of questions about love and family. It also shows the inner workings (albeit fictional) of a truly deranged person and how one is able to justify what he is doing despite all evidence that it is wrong. I also thought it was quite interesting - and fitting - that Humbert Humbert often befriended other sexual deviants. I think that is probably true of that type of person in the real world.

This was not an easy book to read because there are many historical and literary references throughout the text, along with the aforementioned untranslated French phrases (some Latin and German as well), so I highly recommend getting the annotated version. I didn't know there was an annotated version until I went to the book club meeting and now I feel like I need to read it all over again so I can get the inside jokes that some of the others understood better than I did.
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LibraryThing member 1greenprof
I was uncertain about reading this book...concerned about prurient interests and such, but I wanted to both see what the fuss was about, and to decide for myself what I felt about Nabokov. As it turns out, in my opinion, this book deserves its status as seminal literature, and not just pulp pornography.

Nabokov's use of language is exquisite...just read a few passages...he puts most modern writers to shame as he uses just the right words to paint his very delicate and dangerous picture. He paints neither Humbert nor Lola as saints...nor should he. He develops the characters, shows their growth and their diminuition. In the end we are left with tragic figures whose lives were cast by the journey they took.

This is classic literature that should be read by more.
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LibraryThing member alana_leigh
"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."

Oh, Lolita. Is there anyone these days who doesn't know the general story? Middle-aged Humbert Humbert becomes obsessed with twelve-year-old Dolores Haze. Thankfully, few literate people disagree with the statement that Lolita is a brilliant work of twentieth-century fiction. I find myself at a loss for words in reviewing this book, if only because I feel like so much has already been said. The language is beautiful and the story is riveting. The repulsion one feels for Humbert's taste is complicated by his deviously charming writing and Lolita's self-awareness. One might find an untrustworthy narrator to be a chore at times, but here, it is nothing short of fascinating.

Above all, what struck me with this reading of Lolita is just how masterful Nabokov's command of the English language really is... I found myself savoring every sentence and looking up the definitions of words of which I knew the meanings... not because I thought I was wrong or that he would be more precise, but that there were certain nuances to be gained. I spent time reflecting on certain details that would crop up (for instance, Humbert's obsessive cataloguing of Lolita's height and weight) or various academic interpretations (the question of this book representing the corruption of young America by old Europe or old Europe's downfall brought about by young America), but really, it's the language that I kept coming back to again and again. Here is a wordsmith, here is a man who knows how to turn a phrase. Breath-taking at every turn.

If you haven't read it yet, I shall not pressure you. There will come a time in your life when you finally feel compelled to pick this up and you'll understand the awesome power of Nabokov's language in painting such an fascinating story.
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LibraryThing member traciolsen
One of my all time favorite books. The use of language is delicious. Every word in every sentence is perfect and gorgeous. Amazing that English is not his first language.
LibraryThing member norabelle414
Absolute trash that is very well written. I felt like more and more of a creep as I read the book, and the plot and character development (outside of the main character) left a lot to be desired. The language, however, is out of this world. It reads like one long poem.
LibraryThing member Unkletom
Despite the critical acclaim, rave reviews and high placement on most must-read lists, I avoided reading Lolita for decades, mostly because of the subject matter. What can I say? My philosophy of universal tolerance doesn’t extend to Pedophiles. But when I read another Nabokov book, Despair, I realized that this was a unique author. His ability to tell a story through the eyes of an unsavory character, simultaneously expressing his twisted belief in his innocence while subtly revealing to readers the vile truth of his character, is unparalleled. Vladimir Nabokov is an absolute master of the unreliable narrator. When I realized this, I had my first inkling that Lolita might be something more than just a story about a pervert.

Now that I have read it I find myself in a bit of a pickle. By my rating scale, for me to give a book five stars I must believe it must pass the ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ test. There should be no room for improvement. That’s not the case. I reached a point about midway through the book where I grew very tired of Humbert Humbert, the less-than-humble narrator, and his efforts to maintain control of his step-daughter Dolores, aka Lolita. Many will argue and I won’t disagree that Nabokov used this time to subtly and relentlessly build the case against Humbert. Humbert’s greatest crime, as revealed via subtle clues and references revealed from his own pen, is that he took a 12 year-old girl and stole from her not only her childhood but her entire life. While I did find it painful to read at times, I cannot deny that it was masterfully done.

Other arguments favoring a high rating include Nabokov’s skill at creating new English words when none exist that meet his needs. Some, such as the word ‘nymphet’ have jumped from his pen into the current lexicon. His mordant sense of humor also put him in a class above most authors. One wouldn’t expect to find humor in a book about pedophilia but a careful reading will reveal quite a bit. I particularly enjoyed a scene when he talked about the fate of his first wife after she left him.The couple had somehow got over to California and had been used there, for an excellent salary, in a year-long experiment conducted by a distinguished American ethnologist. The experiment dealt with human and racial reactions to a diet of bananas and dates in a constant position on all fours. My informant, a doctor, swore he had seen with his own eyes obese Valechka and her colonel, by then gray-haired and also quite corpulent, diligently crawling about the well-swept floors of a brightly lit set of rooms (fruit in one, water in another, mats in a third and so on) in the company of several other hired quadrupeds, selected from indigent and helpless groups. I tried to find the results of these tests in the Review of Anthropology; but they appear not to have been published yet.Another point in the book’s favor is his ability to portray complexity. Almost all of us see the subject of pedophilia in black and white. It’s not something to which we apply gradation. To those of us who see the world thusly, Nabokov asks ‘But what if you have two pedophiles? Is a victim better off with one of them than the other?’

Bottom line: This is not a very pleasant book to read but it is brilliant and I recommend it highly. It is more mystery than romance although, since it is told to us by a sexual predator, his passion for his victim is a big part of it. What I find most fascinating is Nabokov’s ability to tell a story using a deranged individual’s words. He simultaneously shows us how twisted his protagonist is and how he can obliviously view himself as something almost noble. There is one word that describes this skill that Nabokov has that many authors lack; ‘depth’.

FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements:
*5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
*4 Stars – It could stand for a few tweaks here and there but it’s pretty good as it is.
*3 Stars – A solid C grade. Some serious rewriting would be needed in order for this book to be considered great or memorable.
*2 Stars – This book needs a lot of work. A good start would be to change the plot, the character development, the writing style and the ending.
*1 Star - The only thing that would improve this book is a good bonfire.
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LibraryThing member TakeItOrLeaveIt
Why I am left without wit, flair, or scathing commentary speaks mounds on Nabokov's laugh through the 1950's American capitalistic/salacious dream. A naughty romp, a must read.
LibraryThing member kant1066
When Vladimir Nabokov decided to write “Lolita,” he certainly didn’t make things easy on himself when he chose to make a sex offender his (anti)hero. (I wish there was a less clinical-sounding word, but pedophile doesn’t seem quite right, either.) With most novels that I read, I try to include a small plot and character synopsis, but I think that I can safely forego that here, and instead talk a bit about what I’d like most like to focus on: the reactions the novel often gets, and Nabokov’s idea of the novel as expressed in several interviews he gave.

Statistically speaking, the ratings (at least on Goodreads) aren’t anomalous. About 14% of the reviews, as of the composition of this review, that have bothered to assign a star rating to the book gave it either one or two stars. What I find most interesting is the vast majority of them have damned it for one reason: the moral character of Humbert Humbert. I find this odd, since no one says “Crime and Punishment” is a horrible book because Raskolnikov is a murderer or because Oliver Twist is an amateur pickpocket. What it is about Humbert that sets people off toward such a reaction by judging the book by the actions of the protagonist instead of the quality of the writing itself? And, since everyone already knows what “Lolita” is all about, who picks this up knowing that they’re already going to assign it such a low rating?

If you’re interested in actually giving this novel the attention that it deserves and not just sanctimoniously trashing it to – what, I don’t know, convince us that you’re really, really not a fan of man-on-child sex? – I suggest some supplementary reading that will fill out Nabokov’s ideas of the novel. What I have in mind to this end is Nabokov’s collection called “Strong Opinions,” which I have also reviewed for this site. I especially recommend the first two-thirds of the book which contains all the interviews (the last third consists mostly of abstruse academic articles about chess and lepidoptery). In it, he clearly explains that he’s not interested in your or anyone else’s sense of moral propriety, “novels of ideas,” or social commentary parading as fiction. If you take Nabokov at his word, or most other modern novelists that have spoken about what they feel about writing fiction, just because someone writes about a character is not an endorsement of that character. If you are among the people who apparently can’t understand this and accuse Nabokov of writing about “a disgusting man using beautiful language,” heed what he has to say. Though my personal favorites are those readers – and I use that word loosely – who claim to be “disturbed” by the novel. Some of these low reviews really are great for comic relief.

My own opinion? I think that the novel’s subject also resulted in its canonical status. Without the Humbert-Lolita dynamic at its center, this novel would have been just another Nabokov novel (that is, stylistically complex and linguistically playful), but I don’t think that it would have the popular reputation that it does. I liked the wordplay and Nabokov’s obvious logophilia and playfulness, but other than that, it’s not something I’m jumping to read again. Then again, I’m of a school that isn’t reactionary when it comes to novels of ideas; in fact, I’m rather fond of the idea, and enjoy reading fiction of this kind. The point here is that, before criticizing fiction (or rather, much more shallowly and uselessly, criticizing its protagonist for his actions), you should get to know what the writer thinks about the job of fiction itself. This isn’t to say that you must agree with it. But it’ll certainly save you posting something embarrassing on Goodreads in the future.
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LibraryThing member vampyredhead
The most disgusting, vile book I have ever read. I forced myself to read this because they say it is a classic. It is only about child molestation.
LibraryThing member adamallen
From my purview, Lolita should have a subtitle. That subtitle should read "A Beautifully Written Book on Disturbing Subject Matter." That basically sums up my thoughts on Nabokov's pièce de résistance. I hope that my use of French doesn't irritate you as it did with me during my reading of this novel. In my opinion, Nabokov's continued use of French phrases was the one thing that damaged the eloquence of his writing style - and make no mistake, he writes beautifully.

As mentioned in my proposed subtitle, my primary difficulty was with the subject matter (an older adult man who lusts after a young girl). Oddly enough, in the last year, I've now read two books on this difficult topic, Lolita and Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In both cases, I expected to be so disgusted by the content that I would end up putting the book down. Instead, in both cases, the beauty of the writing kept me engaged. It is also worth noting that Nabokov had a more difficult time keeping the book in my hands given that he is considerably more graphic in his lustful descriptions than was Garcia Marquez.

Perhaps my review is too similar to other reviews of Lolita. I don't know, I haven't read them. I can only suspect that the two glaring characteristics of the book - the eloquence of the wordsmith and the difficult nature of the plot line - are often repeated.

That being said, I'm a person who likes books, movies, etc. that are moving. I want to be genuinely disturbed, saddened, or brought to laughter. In other words, I want to feel the book. Nabokov was able to do that on multiple occasions during my reading of Lolita. I can see why it was a stunner of a book in 1955. Hell, it was a stunner for me in 2007 and I'm no prude.
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LibraryThing member alienhard
I was lied to in my youth (MTV, Reagan) by a young man named Gordon who, while prancing about in a British school teacher's robe, bemoaned a certain situation with a young student:

"just LIKE that
old MAN in
that BOOK by
NAB-o-kov"

The lie was in the pronunciation. But then, had he shifted the sylLABles to the correct "naBOKov," he would have destroyed the meter, and as we know Gordon likes his meter. Still, I have forever pronounced the author's name incorrectly because of it.

It took me two weeks to get through this novel. Part of it was the initial horror of the subject matter ("am I really reading this?"). Then, there's the writing itself. NaBOKov's controversial work is, above all else, a jungle of literary tricks. Realizing this (or being advised as such), I switched to the Annotated edition when I reached Part II. Doing so consolidated that which I had been Googling anyway: definitions, translations, parodies. There's the obvious, the "Lo and Behold" jokes, and there's the arcane (James Joyce, James Joyce, James Joyce). When you see the full range of riddles and references enumerated as they are in the Annotated Lolita, you appreciated the depth of NaBOKov's writing. "Lolita" is not for the casual reader. It proved a tremendous challenge for someone like me--not a literary scholar. But with guidance of the notes and Yale online sessions (three!), it was quite rewarding.

5 stars for the writing, the genius of it. -1 for the subject matter. 4 overall.

Now about those butterflies....
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LibraryThing member wordbrooklyn
I just read this last year and was surprisingly disturbed by it. I guess I had the movie in my head and the book is so much darker. I can't say I really enjoyed reading it, but I understand why it's still so popular.
LibraryThing member ProfH
Astonishing. One of the greatest accomplishments in all of literature.
LibraryThing member Dorritt
What an infuriating literary experience. On the one hand, the loathsome premise of the novel was so off-putting, at times it was all I could do to force myself to read on. On the other hand, Nabakov’s dazzling narrative is like the literary equivalent of Cirque de Soliel – simultaneously brilliant, recondite, terrifying, manipulative, mesmerizing, and disturbing.

Talk about a book that defies characterization! Is it literature? (Those gorgeous passages of prose, those pretentiously long passages of French!) Philosophy? (Those Sartre references, those reflections on love and fate!) Social commentary? (Those rhapsodic odes to small-town America!) Satire? (Those deliciously spiteful jabs directed at psychology & education; that preposterously pendantic forward!) Farce? (That hilariously absurd denoument in which he finally brings to ground his imagined nemesis!) Tragedy? (Humbert Humbert as Oedipus Redux?) An exploration of deviant psychology? Pornography? An extended Joycianesque jest? In truth, the novel is all those things at once, which – I suppose – is precisely what makes it so infuriating. You want to hate the thing, but it’s just so damned brilliant.
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LibraryThing member aethercowboy
If you've ever seen American Beauty, you'd realize that the protagonist's name is an anagram for "Humbert Learns." This is important to the story, provided you've also read Lolita.

Lolita, which is the reason we have the term "Lolita Complex" (which, it must be noted, Lolita never had), is a story about a man who nowadays would be considered a Child Predator, and would possibly be living under an overpass, as he would be unable to live in any neighborhood as the homeowners organization would ride him out on a rail, regardless of the fact that he purchased the home through an equal opportunity home seller.

But, this was written before the internet made it easy for pedophiles to get their fix, and at the same time, made it easy for law enforcement officers to get their pedophiles.

Humbert Humbert, the protagonist of Lolita finds himself infatuated with the daughter of a single woman. The daughter, Dolores, he calls Lolita for short (and if you've any rudimentary understanding of the Spanish language, you'd realize that "Lolita" means "Little Lola," where Lola is an acceptable diminutive form of Dolores). So, he does what, I would imagine, any child-hungry pedophile would do in such a case: marries the mother to get to the daughter.

While the subject matter of the book is quite grim, and may be offensive to some, if not many, if not everybody, the style of the book marks it as a tragicomedy, a divine comedy where Humbert's Beatrice leads him through the waking life, with a final destination in Hell. The writing of the book shows that, while a Russian-born author, Nabokov held a mastery ofver the English language that most Americans can't even begin to have. On the surface, the book seems to be about a man falling in love with an extremely young girl, but it is much, much deeper than that, as we learn that youth and naivete do not always go hand in hand, at least on the same person.

This book is not for everybody, and most people will probably get offended at it, and consider it not worth reading. The rest will be amazed at the quality of writing, and imagine Nabokov as able to describe a garbage dump as visceral, yet beautiful thing.
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Pages

317

ISBN

0679723161 / 9780679723165
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