Reviews of Lolita (1955)
Review by karnak (2007-06-06)
Lolita is arguably the greatest novel of the second half of the twentieth century and is one of most exuberantly-written in the English language. Controversial in its day, it was banned in France and parts of the U.S. Many of Nabokov’s novels are experimental in structure and in use of metafictional and surrealistic techniques, and I see Lolita’s provocative story as a way for him to explore the limits of subject matter. Above all, it is a novel is about all-consuming obsession – the ultimate novel of obsession. Nabokov creates some empathy with Humbert at the beginning by describing how it is his first love, Annabel, abruptly dying that causes him as an adult to try to recreate that time by pursuing girls the same age. It’s been said that Lolita is a novel of prisons: Humbert writes the story of Lolita in jail, he is a prisoner of his obsession and his childhood, Lolita is his captive when he becomes her guardian, and he voluntarily enters into the prison of a sham marriage to her mother, Charlotte. As repugnant as Humbert’s behavior is, he also achieves a kind of grace by the transcendent poetry and the cold-eyed clarity (and black wit) of his confession.
Lolita was #4 on the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century list.
Lolita is one of those books that have gained notoriety because of their subject matter. After getting an awkward look from the bookshop keeper when I bought it, I could also say that it is far better known for false assumptions and rumours than for its own unquestionable merits.
One ought to free their mind of prejudice when reading this particular book in order to fully appreciate it, and not to feel uncomfortable whilst reading it. From the first sentence to the last, respectively beginning and ending with the name of the twelve-year old character, it grips the reader and does not let him go. The style is witty, with constant puns and references to other works, and at times even poetic. Nabokov shows his full narrative potential using a wide palette of means of expression.
The subjects the plot raises and explores, besides the obvious impossible love between a man and a 'nymphet', are the ever-present doppelgangers/or doubles/, convention, as well as the ubiquitous theme of true love.
Personally, I think that the part where Humbert realises he has truly fallen in love with Lolita, is one of the most cathartic moments in literature. While reading Humbert Humbert's confession you are sucked into the whirlpool of his mind, and once you finish the book, you are left with a certain sense of poetic bleakness, quite unmatched by anything I have read.
It is neither easy nor possible to express how amazing this novel is, and I recommend it to anyone with a free mind.
Review by rinabeana (2006-06-18)
Summary: Humbert Humbert, a scholar of sorts, has a predilection for prepubescent girls, or nymphets as he calls them. A fluke leads him to rent a room from a woman with a 12-year-old nicknamed Lolita...
Comments: This is one of those books I've always felt I should read, not because I particularly thought I'd enjoy it, but because I'd always heard how well-written it was. Of course, I'd also heard it was awful, but there was only one way to decide for myself. When a friend invited me to her book club and said that they had selected Lolita, I ran out and picked up a copy at the library. I read it in two days, and only put it down for pesky things like sleep and work. I have to say that my assumptions were correct and I thought the writing was great, but the story quite appalling. I was completely sucked in, though the story turned my stomach.
I'd say the majority of the book is a series of vignettes about encounters with Lolita—things she said, things she did, how she looked. There was quite a bit of narrative meandering. I think what fascinated me was the perspective, especially since it's one I'll never have first hand (thank goodness!). Humbert knows there is something wrong with him, but seems powerless to do anything about it. He did make a point of saying he didn't use violence to force Lolita to do anything, which he seemed to think made him better than a rapist. I think on some level he realized that his brand of emotional extortion may have been worse. What was so horrifying was that he was so intelligent and cognizant of what he was doing. He knew how insane his obsession with Lolita was and took immense pains to hide their secret. Nabokov wrote his character so well that I felt like I was inside his mind at times, which is no small feat given the subject matter.
I never really liked Lolita, but she sure got a raw deal. Yes, she was bratty and obnoxious and she made a mistake when she threw herself at Humbert. However, she was just a CHILD and she paid for her mistake a million times over. Humbert so completely and mercilessly trapped her that I can't even conceive of the hopelessness she must have felt. Their whole "relationship" was a vicious cycle that kept repeating. Lolita had nowhere else to turn and resented Humbert's constant wheedling for sexual favors so she acted out, which only made him tighten the noose a little bit more. No wonder she cried herself to sleep every night! The scary thing is that I had to keep reminding myself of this because, through Humbert's eyes, she treated him cruelly. His speech and manners just seemed so much more reasonable than hers, though his other crimes were far worse.
To sum things up, I don't think I could read this book again, but I'm not sorry I did read it. It really made me think. I wouldn't recommend it as something to enjoy, however.