Sunday, 6 January 2013

Book Review: 'Lolita' by Vladimir Nabokov

by Vladimir Nabokov

Published: 7th July, 2011
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd
Source: Bought From Amazon
Format: E-Book
Pages: 464

Cover Art

I think this is my favourite cover for Lolita; it is beautiful, despite the fact that Lolita is completely different in my head (she is most certainly a brunette). 

Plot Synopsis

Awe and exhilaration—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.

My Rating:

First Lines:

'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.'

Pocket-Size Review

It's very hard to know what to make of this book: it is very lofty. I bought an annotated copy when I was finished because I felt that some things just went over my head!

Highs: The writing is gorgeous: it'll confuse and disgust you but in the best possible way.
Lows: I hated myself for siding with Humbert, but I just couldn't help it sometimes. I pitied him even though he is a monster.


Everyone's heard of Lolita. It is the only book anybody can ever think of that is narrated by a murdering paedophile for a start. Humbert Humbert (not his real name but an assumed name that he chose because it sounds vile) is a middle-aged professor with a fixation for young girls, what he calls 'nymphets', and who becomes involved with his landlady, Charlotte Haze, to get closer to her 12 year old daughter Dolores who he calls Lolita. 

I saw Lolita described as a 'selfish, vulgar, manipulative little goblin' which is a wonderful and perfect description of her character. She is a screaming brat, a scheming banshee, a lazy toad, a rotten maleficent malicious beast of a child. But she is also just that: a child. She is vulgar with an un-selfconscious innocence, she has no shame and no awareness and thus she seems incredibly childlike and vulnerable. With all her front and her rudeness and crudity, she just seems like a spoilt brat who needs a responsible adult to take her into hand. What she gets instead is a perverse stepfather who adores her whilst he rapes her. 

It is horrendous because this child with the sticky chin and too short schooldress and mischievous, glittering eyes is rambunctious in her advances, in a kind of morbidly unaware way: she practically throws herself onto Humbert believing she is old enough to handle relations with him. However, when they actually happen it is obvious she is completely broken by it and, although it is told through the very skewed point of view of Humbert, it is obvious she is traumatised when they have sex and he says in passing that she cries every time. You just want to pluck her out of the situation and protect her, despite how beastly she can be, because you know that it is the adults who have failed her.

It's hard to know what to make of this book, to be honest. It was very literary and the language is gorgeous and introspective and enlightening, but ultimately the characters don't inspire you and they don't particularly move you. I wanted to be utterly repulsed by Humbert and his casual soiling of a 12 year old but I didn't hate him enough, I only disliked and pitied him. I loved the visceral Lolita, but, again, she just didn't seem quite enough. I wanted to really feel for her, but found myself becoming quite irritated with her. The narrative style is such that the events in the novel have little impact because they are written about in a detached, abstract way and so it's ultimately difficult to connect with it. You want to connect with Nabokov on a deep, literary level but it's difficult when you're reading it at a bus stop at 8 in the morning before going to work...I think I would've loved it if I had studied it and analysed all of its strange nuances but, as it is, it was hard work.

Overall, this book is like a Shakespeare play written about a love story between a man a dog; it is disgusting in theory but so beautifully crafted that sometimes you forget that.

P.S- Read this account of a boy who read Lolita at 12 years old and how it affected him. Really interesting reading.

Other Thoughts

This Book has Inspired me to Read: Hmm. It inspired me to go out and buy  'The Annotated Lolita' because I wanted to know more! But it made me flee back to the YA with a whimper because it was such heavy going.

Three Words to Describe this Book: Lofty, Academic, Repulsive.

Memorable Quotes:

'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. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. '

'He broke my heart. You merely broke my life.'

'I loved you. I was a pentapod monster, but I loved you. I was despicable and brutal, and turpid, and everything, mais je t’aimais, je t’aimais! And there were times when I knew how you felt, and it was hell to know it, my little one. Lolita girl, brave Dolly Schiller.'

'I looked and looked at her, and I knew, as clearly as I know that I will die, that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth. She was only the dead-leaf echo of the nymphet from long ago - but I loved her, this Lolita, pale and polluted and big with another man's child. She could fade and wither - I didn't care. I would still go mad with tenderness at the mere sight of her face.'

But Don't Take My Word For It...

  • Blog Reviews of  'Lolita': 

' “Lolita” was Nabokov’s melancholy and mind at their broadest and most visceral, revealing the humanity roiling beneath all intellectualized discontent, even his own.'

'My trouble with reading Lolita was that I didn't know how to approach Nabokov's new language. I tried to approach it with my brain, but lost its beauty, rhythm, sound; I tried to approach it with my ear, but lost its depth.'


  1. Yep, I definitely know of this book, and knew it had something to do with a younger girl but I had no idea he was a rapist.

    I do want to read some classics and I am interested in this but I am definitely worried I won't get the language, either!

    Great review :)

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  2. One of my best friends recommended this book to me because of its mastery of words. I know the plot involves a lot of grit and unorthodox events, but that is exactly what intrigues me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Really enjoyed this review - I have taken Lolita out of the library on a couple of occasions, but never got around to reading it (I feel like it deserves some proper attention!). I'd like to give it a try at some point though, as I've never read any Nabokov and I know his use of language is meant to be amazing. I like the fact that this isn't a straightforward book with straightforward characters - I can't imagine that it is easy to read, but I think the challenge is an interesting one.

  4. I read Lolita a few years ago, but inexplicably stopped about 50 pages before the end. I didn't hate it or anything. I just put it down and forgot about it for a while. Despite that, your review made me realize I really do need to go back and reread it. There's something so fascinating about that book. Like you said, it's difficult to like any of the characters, but it's even more difficult to just hate Humbert. Partially because it's his perspective, I think. It's such a strange book to have become a classic, but the writing really is beautiful.

  5. I didn't realize she was quite so young! In the film by Stanley Kubrick she's older - dating age -
    so it's not nearly so revolting. It's much more pathetic than that. This is definitely NOT a book any 12 year old boy - or girl - should be reading! Very thoughtful review.

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  7. Really well-balanced review. I completely see why one would side with Humbert at times, against one's will. The annotated Lolita is, I'm sure, and excellent way of reading this - there's just so much to it that you really need the pointers (well, I felt I did, anyway). It's an utterly brilliant book, but a shame that you were left ambivalent about the characters.

    If you're interested, review is here: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

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  9. Lolita is a classic by all means. Nabokov's language is beautiful and the story has a soul that compels the reader to empathise with the protagonist. The author has dealt with an unconventional and controversial subject with utmost dexterity. People who have a taste for great literature, especially from sexually conservative societies like India,

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  13. I am going to tell you what I wish I had been told before reading this book. This is a memoir told from the first person point of view. I guess we all know that this book is about a pedophile, about incest. Yes it is, but it is extremely well written. And for this reason, due to this author’s talent, it is often very funny and thought provoking. It is not just about incest. It is also about love and teenage kids and anger and craziness too.

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