Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

198806Lolita is not a book easily reviewed or even discussed. Nabokov’s masterpiece was a book I had put off reading. Despite its presence on my Classics Club reading list, I still wasn’t super pumped to dive in. First, the subject matter wasn’t particularly pleasing and second, my first foray into Nabokov’s writing was less than successful. I attempted Pale Fire when I was about 21 and failed miserably. It went right over my head.

When my best friend and I decided to start our own buddy reads program, she listed three books that she was interested in reading, and I selected our first choice from that list. Having read two of the three choices, I was left with Lolita. It’s not a book that needs an introduction or synopsis. Everyone knows the story follows a pedophile called Humbert Humbert.

What a tragic and masterful story. Nabokov’s command of the English language is astounding considering his native tongue is Russian. The words – oh the beautifully manipulated words! So many puns and wordplay are scattered abundantly throughout Lolita’s nightmarish tale. I found myself laughing out loud often and then feeling terrible about that. Nabokov will reel you in and then bop you over the head with grotesquery. In short, he’s brilliant and so is Lolita if you can get past the yucky.

I was shocked at the absolute bluntness of the molestation, particularly for a book written in the fifties. I’m not entirely sure how the thing got published. The graphic-ness of a 12-year-old getting repeatedly raped by a man in his forties is baffling. Humbert is a monster of the most sordid variety and several times I had to set the book aside. There were even parts I skimmed over in the first half because I just couldn’t digest the imagery.

Victoria and I haven’t met to discuss the book yet as she’s just started. But she messaged me at about 70 pages in asking how the hell I managed to finish. Honestly, I didn’t have the best of answers beyond the writing is gorgeous. I suspect for many parents this book would be impossible to read so I wouldn’t fault her for not finishing. One saving grace, Nabokov is clearly not glorifying Humbert or pedophilia. He’s clearly not a fan.

The best thing to come out of my reading is how accessible I found the writing, the plotting, and pacing of Lolita. I’m now no longer afraid to visit Nabokov’s other works. In fact, I’m looking forward to a Pale Fire reread in the near future.

Have you read Lolita? Is it a book you can easily recommend to other readers? Do you enjoy books that make you complicit in some seriously demented moral quandaries?


18 thoughts on “Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

  1. That’s is a great review. I have never read Lolita for most of those reasons. However, I do know that the writing is amazing. One of these days I may have to try it. But being the mother of two girls it will be hard.


  2. I’ll be curious to see what you think of Pale Fire when you re-read it. It’s one of my all-time favorites, largely because Nabokov’s writing is gorgeous, and the way that he mixed a poem with commentary by an unreliable narrator is so unique.

    Lolita was a hard read in terms of subject matter, but I thought that using Humbert’s perspective to tell the story showed just how far he had taken over her life. It made a powerful impact, and it made me feel for her even more.

    • Yes. Humbert really was the perfect narrator. We’ll see with Pale Fire – the premise has always intrigued and impressed me. Hopefully, I can now fully appreciate it without any major hiccups.

  3. I haven’t read Lolita. I’m not really sure if I want to, but I think it’s good to read about difficult subjects so that you’re informed. Maybe as an ebook – I can just imagine someone on my train going ballistic about someone reading Lolita!

  4. Pingback: The Classics Club: Wherein I Cave and Join… | The Blog of Litwits

  5. The subject matter isn’t entirely bothersome but reading it and trying to figure out what in the hell is going on is troubling to me. I’m probably too young to comprehend this but its something I’ve wanted to read.for a while now and I think that one day and I can go back a reread and understand some things that I couldn’t figure out now

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