Saturday, February 5, 2011

Thoughts: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. – Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita)
Lolita. Where do I even begin talking about this book? Every time I try to come up with a witty anecdote to start this post, I get stumped. Lolita continues to evade my understanding.

Set in the late 1940s to the early 1950s, the novel begins when Humbert Humbert, a Frenchman beset by misfortunes and dogged by unhappiness, decides to relocate to America. He stays at the home of Mrs. Haze where he meets her daughter, Dolores Haze or Lolita. To become closer to Lolita, Humbert marries Mrs. Haze. Tragedy strikes, and the rest, they say, is history.

I was actually very hesitant to read this book because a) the subject matter is very sensitive and b) I’m a huge sissy. When I started reading, though, I was surprised when I couldn’t put it down. Nabokov’s prose is beautifully-written with lush descriptions of Humbert Humbert’s travels with Lolita, and of Lolita herself. I was even more surprised when Lolita made me laugh. Nabokov’s dark humor is sprinkled all over the book, and I’m glad to say Lolita doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The characters, however, are an entirely different story. I still haven’t made up my mind about Humbert Humbert. He kept trying to convince me, the reader, that he was innocent, a mere mortal man unable to resist the wiles of a beautiful nymphet. Once in a while, I found myself almost believing him, and I became irritated with myself. Humbert Humbert was charming, humorous, and ultimately a monster. His greatest mistake is his attempting to fool the reader into forgetting, for even a moment, the monstrosity of his actions.

I didn’t like Lolita either. Maybe because Humbert Humbert, the narrator, portrayed himself as the victim. Maybe because Lolita really was manipulative, and not the abused and exploited girl I first supposed her to be. In the end, though, I felt sorry for her, because it became clear that she didn’t have a choice. She was stuck between a rock and a hard place, as the cliché goes.

Despite its sensitive subject matter, I’m pretty surprised that Lolita became so controversial. Nabokov clearly depicts the evils of pedophilia. To sum up this five-star novel, I want to say something poetic, something worthy, but the words are still eluding me. I have a feeling that weeks from now, months even, I will still be thinking about and deciphering the puzzle that is Lolita.

Rating: 5/5

17 comments:

Amanda said...

I love this review!! I've been trying to tell people for years just how beautiful this book is, and how anti-pedophilia. I think this big problem is that people stop reading in the early part of the book, when HH is too good at trying to convince you of his innocence. People then think that Nabokov is condoning pedophilia then, and don't wait until it really turns around in the middle.

Back in December I listened to Jeremy Irons read this book. It was only my second time reading it, after nearly a decade since the first time, and Irons made HH come alive in a way that was both creepy and seductive, exactly as it should have been. I understood a lot more of the text when read aloud, too.

Eclectic Indulgence said...

Definitely one of my favourites of all time. I find that it's still just as vivid in my mind, three years after reading it.

Here's my review:
http://eclectic-indulgence.blogspot.com/2008/02/lolita-vladimir-nabokov.html

Shannon said...

I absolutely adore this book. I sort of feel that the subject matter is not even supposed to be the focal point of the novel - I think it's more of an examination of an unreliable narrator and of just how far we, the readers, can be misled by a convincing but unreliable narrator. After all, we're all used to trusting our narrator in most books, since he or she's the one who is giving us the information; we basically have no choice. Nabokov puts us in a position where we need to question Humbert's telling of the story.

If you like Lolita, I highly recommend Nabokov's Pale Fire. It's incredible and deals with the idea of a dishonest, conniving narrator even more.

My review:
http://thespacebard.blogspot.com/2010/07/lolita.html

Ellen said...

i'm glad you liked the book so much...please please read more nabokov! he's my favorite author and every time i see someone reading him i want to celebrate.

like shannon wrote, i think pedophilia is not the main point of the book...it's about hh as a narrator, and it's about (as so many of nabokov's novels are) time. i've read it i think 3 times now and it's up for a reread soon.

Misha said...

I don't know why I haven't read Lolita yet . Maybe it's because of the reasons you gave - the subject matter, especially. I definitely want to read it after your review. So thanks!

Trisha said...

And one day soon I will actually read this...

Brenna said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this novel. I was hesitant to read it as well but was very happy I did. The writing is so beautiful and the story so captivating. It's a hard book to write about without putting people off, but you managed to do that. Great review.

Sam said...

I very much enjoyed this book. I liked that Humbert spent the whole time trying to persuade the reader that Lolita was seducing him etc but Nabokov let us see little glimpses of how untrue it was e.g. Lolita crying herself to sleep every night.

Kristi said...

Having a young daughter, I've been hesitant to read this because of the subject matter. I think you've convinced me to give it a go. Well done!

bibliophilica said...

I think you did a good job of reviewing this book, which as you point out is not easy to review. My first book club read this book many years ago, and the reactions were possibly the most varied we had for any of our reads.
-Jay

Zibilee said...

This is a book I am at once curious about and repelled by. From the reviews I have read, it actually seems like a beautifully written book, it's just that the subject matter makes me cringe! I think your review was wonderful and it entices me more than others I have read. I have a bent to read a classic a month this year, and I might just have to add this one to my list. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts on it.

Jenny O. said...

I could not read this book because of the whole pedophilia thing. I had this idea that the novel sort of glossed over that aspect. I am now chastened by your review and will pick it up, sooner rather than later.

Thanks.

Avid Reader said...

I was nervous about reading this one too. It's such a strange subject to tackle. But in the end it's not about the subject matter, it's about the beautiful prose. It's simply a stunning book.

LBC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LBC said...

I love this book. The language is incredible. I don't really like Lolita much either. I think that Nabokov does a wonderful job playing with gray areas. Lolita doesn't have to be an innocent for Humbert to be wrong. And just because Humbert is wrong, doesn't mean he can't still try to seduce the reader, using language.

I'm a new follower by the way. Love the blog.

Tony D said...

Simply, my favorite novel. Glad you enjoyed it, and nice review

Hindi SMS said...

The first time when I heard about the book was when I was in school, but never had a chance to read it through, albeit in bits and pieces from the school library collection. Now after so many years reading and examining one of toughest novels like Lolita was quiet interesting. To be able to say that for the sake of love if one is wanting to demolishing one's own set of values, morals and the stated norms of love that one grew up feeling comfortable in is, strictly speaking, something of a no-no. Needless to say, it was no less than a struggle to deal with what the novel has to offer me. Above all else, Lolita is a deeply felt and a profound novel dealing with the controversial subject of illicit or illegal love: of a middle-aged literature professor Humbert Humbert obsessed with the 12-year-old lady by name Dolores Haze.

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...