April 8, 2007

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita: Review

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From the very beginning we see that Humbert Humbert is a depraved and sick man. As we read his memoir of his lust for a twelve year old girl, his marriage of convenience to her mother and his eventual abduction of Lolita, he makes no apologies. He is what he is. He even seems to revel in the retelling of it. Still, through the use of word play and poetry, we are drawn to the story. Often we are hit in the face with his terrible deeds and we wonder why we’re still here. Then he says something incredibly witty or poetic so we keep reading. Navokov is a master at this balancing act of the cruel and the beautiful. He draws us in, then shoves us back.


Humbert is an awful person. Navokov does not try to create a sympathetic character by having him feed the poor or pet puppies. There are no tricks like that. Humbert is annoyingly self-absorbed and narcissistic. That is one of reasons he is so funny. His self-love is laughable.


Despite all this, I felt sorry for Humbert who is a slave to his urges and obsessions. His obsession with Lolita is what does him in. He is mad with the thought of her. We see it in the first line:


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.


This is Navokov’s masterpiece. It is a tribute to his love of the English language. The writing is some of the most beautiful I have ever read. The symbolism and wordplay is so complex, I’m sure I missed a lot. At some future date, I will re-read Lolita and spend a few bucks on the annotated version. Any review by me, wouldn’t do this book justice. You just have to read it to understand. But be prepared, this is a child molester’s story and not always easy to read. The one thing I can say is there is no profanity. You have to be a mature enough reader to read between the lines. It’s full of innuendo.


After reading Lolita, I want to read more about Navokov. Why did he write this book? He was a beloved family man, a respected scholar, a chess master and butterfly collector. What was the basis for this character? I feel the need to read his autobiography, Speak, Memory.

8 comments :

  1. I saw an annoted edition at the second hand book store. I should go back for it, from your description. Sounds intriguing; great review
    And so does your choice for your prize book - Darcy's Diary. Enjoy.

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  2. I agree with everything you said - and I added Speak, Memory to my through-the-decades list. (There's also a biography of Vera Nabokov, which also might be illuminating.)

    Great review!

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  3. Great review Christina. Interesting book. I'm just glad we are done with it. LOL.

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  4. I can't believe I'd actually want to read a book about a child molester, but your review really is compelling. Maybe if my TBR list wasn't so overwhelming already. I'll have to think about it. Great review.

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  5. I also just read this book last year. What a difficult book to read -- and yet Nabokov's writing is stunning in it's beauty...

    I hadn't thought to wonder why he would write something like this ... I should think about putting the biography on my list....

    thanks for the good review...

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  6. I read this last month and thought it was one of the most well written books I had ever read, despite the content. I would recommend it to anyone who can look past the subject matter. I think it is a wonderful talent to make something ugly appear beautiful to make it easier to look at.

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  7. Hm, I'm supposed to be reading this as part of my TBR 2007. I got a used copy from a Literature student and she's got interesting notes in the margin. I hope the book turns out as good as you've described :)

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  8. Absolutely a masterpiece, Nabokov's use of the English language is breathtaking. Like you, I can but marvel at all that I must have missed :)

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