Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)

Maybe I don’t quite understand what the fuss is about

★★★★★☆☆

Title:Lolita
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Genre: Fiction / Classic
First published: 1955
Edition: Kindle e-book (Penguin)

Awe and exhiliration–along with heartbreak and mordant wit–abound in Lolita, Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love–love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.

***

This is one of those modern classics that I see mentioned all the time. For good or for bad, and I am glad I finally read it. Was it as disturbing as expected? Oddly not, though the subject matter of course is difficult to read about. The subject matter also meant I was unable to go into this book with an open mind. I already went into this novel knowing that the main character was a paedophile, an absolutely vile person, and this definitely coloured my reading experience.

I don’t often read a lot of reviews beforehand, but I did for this one, as I needed to figure out whether I wanted to read it. Some reviews described this as a love story. I found no love in this book, only unhealthy obsession. I thoroughly disliked Humbert throughout and at no point did I symphatise with him the way some people say they did. My views are coloured by the life and times I am living in and I was unable to see any redeeming qualities in this man. The fact that early in the book he tells us exactly what type of young girls he likes made my skin crawl!

As for Dolores Haze/Lolita herself, I felt sorry for her, but I did not like her either. She came across as a spoilt brat. It’s true! She did! Obviously she did not deserve anything that happened to her, but still, I have to admit I did not like her.

The narrator is as unreliable as they come. He admits so himself as he checks himself into mental institutions along the way. This being the case as well as the way he speaks about Lolita and his actions – it feels oddly detached and distant – I just felt like I was dealing with the narrative of a sick man.

The writing was excellent for a large part, but the story did start to drag in the second half. Until then it had been a relatively easy read, but as the narrative became more erratic I did find it harder to read. Maybe that was entirely intentional, but I found myself getting a little bored.

Am I glad to have read this book? Yes, it’s good to know what the fuss is about. Do I understand what the fuss is about? Maybe not quite, though I understand why this book is controversial. It should be! I would like to read more by Nabokov in the future, as I really do admire his writing.

5 out of 7 stars

4 thoughts on “Book Thoughts: Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)

  1. I think that with books that become “classics” we forget to read them as products of their time. The first readers of this novel weren’t forewarned about what an unredeemable character the narrator is, so Nabokov’s trap was sprung when they started trying to sympathize with him…and then at some point inevitably failed, showing readers how such thinking can start. It’s kind of like how the play The Laramie Project hit audiences in the early part of this century, with the actor who says “we are like this” usually positioned in an audience seat with a spotlight, giving everyone who thought themselves safely removed from the action a bit of a wake-up.

    1. Yes, definitely true. I was just surprised that modern readers still felt that way, whilst knowing very well what the book was about. Maybe it is human nature to try and sympathize… But clearly not mine!

  2. I just commented the other day that I didn’t really recall Nabokov’s amazing style from reading this ages ago, just the unsavoury subject matter! I can’t bring myself to read any others of his books, though I know he’s admired for his writing!

    1. I thought the writing was really good, but yes, there is the subject matter! Neither do I think he managed to retain the same quality of writing throughout, though I thought he got the idea of the deterioration of the narrator’s mind across pretty well. I have not looked into the subject matter of his other books yet, but I will look into them at some point.

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