Adventures in Reading

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
November 23, 2007, 7:14 pm
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , , ,

“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.”

I had never noticed that the front of my cover of Lolita (the one pictured here) has a quote from Vanity Fair, which says: “The only convincing love story of our century.” I admit it sounds quite odd and disconcerting considering this is a “love story” of a rapist who abducts a child and sexually, physically, emotionally, and mentally tortures her for two years. If this is the “love story of our century” I am frankly scared. However, there is something deeply moving in Nabokov’s prose as he describes a man’s obsession (and dare I say love?) with a pre-adolescent Lolita and his final realization of how he “broke [her] life” (279).

Nabokov is one of my favorite authors and my love for Lolita has little to do with Humbert Humbert’s (the narrator, the abductor, the rapist, the poet) “love” for Lolita as much as the impressive story Nabokov weaves to allow the reader to become so mesmerized with H.H. Granted, I do think Vanity Fair is missing a great deal of the story in their bite-size surmation. In “On A Book Entitled Lolita,” Nabokov writes: “As far as I can recall, the initially shiver of inspiration was somehow prompted by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes, who, after months of coaxing by by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature’s cage.”

If you have read Lolita, Lolita is very much that ape, but H.H. cannot even be compared to the scientist as he only realizes after he”loses” her that she had capabilities beyond an object. I also found it interesting that the two Vintage covers both depict body parts of a young woman. The edition I have shows two bare legs topped with a pleated skirt and shod with Oxfords, while a more recent version shows partial lips. Without digging into my dust collecting text books, there are one or two (yes, I am being a bit facetious) feminist criticisms that address the objectification of the female body when displaying it in a butchered form: a mouth, a pair of breasts, a navel, an ankle – but not the entire woman.

For those of you who are not familiar with Lolita, it is generically the plot of a man who rapes a girl while criss-crossing the landscape of the U.S.A. The actual sexual violence of the book is almost entirely implied as H.H. uses veiled poetry to refer to most anything of a sexual nature. H.H. quickly becomes a sympathetic character despite his actions. In addition, the actual text is established as “truth” as a result of a fictional foreward that says the book is fact. While the reader knows the novel is a fictional work, the foreward does allow for great suspension of disbelief.

Despite the nature of the book the characters become endearing. As a reader you can easily become lost in analyzing H.H.’s narrative and attempting to piece together what shreds of Lolita exists. I also confess that I find something comforting in the novel. I suppose I can best explain it as being one of my own clean, well-lighted places, which harbors the familiar despite existential crisis existing at the edges.

Other opinions: Melody’s Reading Corner, book-a-rama, Rhinoa’s Ramblings, things mean a lot



I completely respect your review (very well written) but I would have a terrible time with this book. I don’t think I could ever see a child rapist as sympathetic (although I’m sure Nabokov is a gifted writer). This is the one book I have decided never to read…which is pretty unusual for me. But, I worked with molested kids early in my career and their pain and damage will always be with me.

Comment by wendyrobards

Wendyrobards: Nabokov is such an… odd writer in his own right that anything here, of course, is purely my own take, but though Nabokov never went for the symbolism, allegory, etc. of a book it’s something I love I love to do.

Lolita is not much of a book if you’re looking for a good story or character relationship. It’s a dark and dreadful novel in many aspects, but also definitely a challenging read. Authors often explore darker aspects of life – domestic violence, rape, genocide – through their works, but few take the role of the victimizer so convincingly. In Book Addiction’s review, she says she’d like to see a telling of the book from Lolita’s perspective, which I suppose says something about the shared compassion of understanding and sympathizing with the victim.

Often when I have spoken with people about this book, there is some twinge of sympathy (no matter how much we might want to supress it) for H.H.. I suppose it’s that same twinge that goes against things such as capital punishment and believes that people can reform. Or maybe it’s just Nabokov poking at our brains.

Lolita definitely isn’t for everyone though, but don’t give up on Nabokov and I definitely suggest Invitation To A Beheading.

Comment by bookchronicle

Wow, I’ve always been a bit hesitant to read this book. I’m planning on reading Nabakov story for a personal challenge. If I like his writing, I won’t cross “Lolita” off the list. Interesting review.

Comment by Rebecca Reid

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