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98 of 107 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darkly sensuous and disturbingly beautiful
Lolita is in many ways an extraordinary book. Not only in its choice of subject matter which is perhaps more controversial today then it was in the 1950s but also in the style of writing. It is perhaps the best written book that I have ever read. Nabokov's writing style has a richness that is even more remarkable given that it is not his native tongue. The expert use of...
Published on 21 Feb 2003 by Tom

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita
"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.'

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita still manages to raise eyebrows despite belonging to the literary world for over half a century. Then again, perhaps paedophilia and statutory rape are timeless taboos - especially when approached with finesse, a raw sense of humour and a poetic flair. I never thought I'd...
Published 15 months ago by JoSuthers


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98 of 107 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darkly sensuous and disturbingly beautiful, 21 Feb 2003
This review is from: Lolita (Paperback)
Lolita is in many ways an extraordinary book. Not only in its choice of subject matter which is perhaps more controversial today then it was in the 1950s but also in the style of writing. It is perhaps the best written book that I have ever read. Nabokov's writing style has a richness that is even more remarkable given that it is not his native tongue. The expert use of allusion, extended metaphor and generously evocative imagery makes this a book to savour slowly and one that is closer at times to poetry than prose.
But what a poem. Humbert Humbert is perhaps the very model of the antihero but as he is also the narrator everything is seen through the prism of his own monstrous and predatory lusts. Lolita herself, as Humbert admits, remains something of an enigma throughout. The narrator is unable to see her as an individual and she is portrayed as the archetypal 'nymphet,' who serves merely to serve his own needs. Any deviation from this role is regarded as betrayal. But then the book is entitled Lolita not Delores Hayes and 'Lolita' is no more than the perfect nymphet lurking inside Humbert's diseased brain never a girl of blood and flesh.
Humbert does not in fact offer much in the way of self justification beyond the occasional admission of insanity and his sickening claims to truly love the girl. He also seems to grow in awareness of his perversion as the novel goes on but never seems to regret it. He starts by offering various justifications of child brides from history but his final allusion is to Sade's Justine which is surely an admission of guilt. But the prose is so tender and so darkly comic that all this is repeatedly obscured and Nabokov manages to win you a twisted sympathy for his protagonist even, almost, for his predicament. So much of it seems so reasonable the way Humbert tells it.
This is largely because the way the feelings and desires of little Delores herself are so obscured by Humbert's dark longings. This of course serves to make it all the more poignant on the odd occasion that they do surface. When Humbert is in his first rapture of paradise after possessing young Lolita he describes his joy to search an extent and with such tenderness that the reader could be forgiving for believing Lolita welcomed his advances. Until he lets drop in a single sentence that she cries herself to sleep every single night.
A rich though black humour also punctuates the novel for all that it goes on to breed horror. The earlier sections especially those concerning his first wife, her Tsarist lover and Humbert's Arctic expeditions are quite hilarious. The book also deals with a definite sense of place and of being out of place. Humbert,, like Nabokov,, is a European new to the New World and though his depiction of America is not always flattering it is often insightful. No nostalgia is ever shown for 'rotting Europe' however even if he feels it gives him a superiority over the banal pretensions of his new countrymen. Despite his other predilections Humbert is a huge intellectual snob and his writing will probably appeal most to those who feel themselves akin to him in this respect, if no other.
Lolita is a dark and engrossing masterpiece and is in many ways more beautiful then it has any right to be. There is nothing pornographic or prurient about it but it does raise some quite complicated emotions in the reader. It should rightly be considered a classic but is rightly controversial and is quite simply one of the most astonishing things I have ever read. Much as I deplore censorship there is certainly something playfully dangerous about Lolita and it should only be recommended to the more sophisticated reader.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, 4 Jun 2013
"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.'

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita still manages to raise eyebrows despite belonging to the literary world for over half a century. Then again, perhaps paedophilia and statutory rape are timeless taboos - especially when approached with finesse, a raw sense of humour and a poetic flair. I never thought I'd chuckle along to such sordid and morbid affairs, but I am not the only one to admit that poor, doomed Humbert Humbert's tale is perversely fascinating.

So what's it about?

Middle-aged Humbert Humbert likes little girls... whom he fondly dubs `nymphets'. The catalyst for such dangerous longing stemmed from an unconsummated love with childhood sweetheart, Annabel Leigh. Decades later, HH finds the perfect object of transference; the plain yet feisty nymphet, Dolores Haze - aka, Lolita. His obsession for the twelve year old grows and spills over into the shadier side of his psyche, the murkier muck of his mind. Needless to say; their journey together is a rather bumpy one.

Narrated in the first person, we hear this story from the man himself (or the monster, the madman, the poet, the academic - take your pick). Humbert Humbert dazzles us with his intellect and charms us with his excessive and sophisticated vocabulary which is finely tuned to conceal the harrowing filth lurking in the depths of his memoir. We know the personal narration is unreliable and yet this sophisticated academic still sucks us in and forces us to take residency in his warped mind among his darkest delusions. His charisma gently lulls you into a moral and ethical trance and you'll unwillingly follow his journey, blinkered by his bright brilliance.

My thoughts?

Well, I loved it to start with. I enjoyed the way the words worked on my mind and one can savour and revel in the richness of the literary realm Humbert Humbert conjures with every sentence. But there comes a point where enough is enough. For a start, there's too much French in it. And it's too time-consuming to Google translate every French phrase. Yes, the integration of language is no doubt a reminder that HH is ever so well-educated (and perhaps a reminder that Nabokov is too), but it's rather irritating. Also, I had to look up a handful of very tricky words on more than one occasion. Tiring.

I read for a combination of pleasure and stimulation - but when the scales tip and I'm made to feel like an idiot, I do NOT enjoy. There's only so much linguist trickery the average brain can handle (and yes, I'm confessing to an average brain, a typical mind, a standard level of intelligence, an OK IQ). My cerebral cortex started dribbling out of my ears by page 250. Not bad going, I guess, but the last chunk was a massive effort. I nearly pulled the plug. But I persevered... hurrah.

I'm pleased I've read it; it's definitely a must-read for those interested in literature and all its glory. I owe Nabokov a debt of gratitude for kicking my lazy vocabulary up the arse. I shall endeavour to use some of these newly learned gems in everyday speech... probably to the horror of my friends and colleagues. It was an experience... but I'm glad it's over.

[...]
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118 of 132 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing, 21 Jun 2006
I was interested to see how `Lolita' would read, given the current climate, and was worried that Nabokov, writing in the 1950s, would somehow see paedophilia as being less serious than we would view it today. `Lolita' is undoubtedly an uncomfortable read. It is related from the perspective of a relatively unrepentant paedophile, Humbert Humbert. He documents the origins of his obsession with `nymphets' - pre-pubescent girls - and his pursuit of them. Eventually he meets Lolita, his landlady's daughter, and recounts his (eventually successful) plot to run away with her and take her for his lover while pretending to be father and daughter. Humbert's dual roles, as father and abuser, leads him to obsessive jealousy, and Lolita's accelerated adolescence leave her as a precocious adult in a child's body, scarred and cynical. Both lead to tragic consequences, and wasted lives in more ways than one.

Although Humbert is both the villain and narrator, he doesn't hide the sordidness of his crime, and the effects of abuse on Lolita are acknowledged. Nabokov brilliantly treads a fine line between making Humbert human (and seeing the world through his eyes) and recognising the reality of his crimes. Despite Nabokov's choice of making a paedophile his narrator and central character, there is little sympathy for Humbert throughout the book, and paedophilia is presented as being every bit as repugnant as it is generally viewed today. Where Humbert makes excuses for himself, it is clear that they are Humbert's, not Nabokov's, excuses, and we are not expected to sympathise. Humbert's actions are also not presented as being in any way erotic. There are no graphic descriptions either, the suggestion is enough.

Because Nabokov treats his subject so skilfully, `Lolita' was a fantastic book. It was a balanced psychological portrait of a repulsive man, who watches himself destroying lives. The subject matter was difficult, but Nabokov deal with it brilliantly. The language is lyrical and clever, and there is enough black humour to take the edge off an otherwise disturbing book. Deservedly labelled a twentieth century classic, and not a book to be avoided.
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43 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enrapture, 21 Aug 2004
I read this book expecting to be sickened. The story of a 40-year-old's obsession with very young girls (or "nymphets") as said 40-year-old calls them) and in particular the beautiful Dolores "Lolita" Haze, there is certainly plenty of material in this book for controversy. However, as soon as I had read the first page I know that this was no deliberately shocking novel, but instead a subtle, enchanting story of enrapture and lust. Everyone can relate to the longing Humbert feels for someone he knows will never lust after him, and the agony and ecstasy of his forced yet somehow tender affair with 12-year-old Dolores is described in absolutely stunning detail. I finished the novel enchanted but also subtly disturbed, as you have to keep reminding yourself that this man is obviously a ruthless paedophile. Read this and prepare to be both symapthetic and disgusted towards your narrator. A beautiful, daring and subversive work of almost-genius.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do not miss this masterpiece, 11 July 2002
This review is from: Lolita (Paperback)
Never has anyone dared use the English language in such a beautiful way to desribe the most haneous of acts. Monsieur Humbert narrates his painful tail of an illicit affair with the fourteen year old daughter of his departed wife, and his ultimate self destruction at the hands of the nymphet who stole his very soul.
The controversial subject matter could easily be misinterpreted, but to the more insightful reader, it becomes apparent Humbert has an undeveloped heart steming from the tragic loss of his first love, consuquently leaving him in an emotional limbo. Although it is difficult to justify the relationship, Nobokov reveals the intense romanticism and dependacy shared between the pair, never once using any curse or crude adjectives, and just who seduces who?
The enthralling, beautiful language and implicit word play make the book a joy to read, whilst also delivering a sharp twang as we are taken to the edge of our moral barometer. Dig deep enough and you'll also detect the darkly sarcastic, humerous side of Nobokov's story; for example Lolita's two school masters Miss Lester and Miss Fabian, or the tragically ironic demise of the relationship.
The subject matter and the original, passionate delivery makes this novel an extraordinary journey through the most intense of human emotions. Love, hate, obsession, to name but a few are expertly manipulated, making for an unforgettable experience.
Never has controversy been so delightfully poignant.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 3 Mar 2012
One of the classics of the 20th century, a brilliant, dark, original and disturbing novel that deserves its place in the canon of 20th Century literature.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 22 Feb 2012
Put simply, this is one of the best books that I have ever read, for a writer to be able to deal with such a subject in the way that Nabakov does is an amazing achievement in itself. Lolita is an absolute work of art and still an easy to read, wonderful, funny story. Amazing.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvellous, erudite, brilliant, prose masterpiece!, 29 Dec 2003
This review is from: Lolita (Paperback)
Let me say at the outset that I have never read a book like this ever before! The marvelous writing is magical: alliteration, puns, word-play, allusions, metaphor, simile, poetry, lyricism, humour, wit, sarcasm...this and much more make Lolita a delight to read just for Nabokov's astonishing use of the English language with its veritable palimpsest of verbal textures. He is THE master of language--bar none! In this respect the work becomes precisely that rare thing: a piece of literature that is also a work of Art.
To some extent the plot of this masterpiece is not as important (in my view) as the style of writing. It is so astonishing, so beautiful, so clever. So clever in fact that there exists an Annotated version to explain all of Nabokov's hints, references and allusions in his text.
The poetically inclined reader will enjoy its many hidden pleasures regardless; however the plot is also tightly controlled and the characterization is also brilliantly done. Especially of Humbert and Lolita although the secondary myriad of people who crop up in this tale are also well defined. The subject matter is pedophilia (hence the notoriety the book has achieved) --and incest --this does not prevent one from simultaneously understanding and feeling pity as well as poignancy and revulsion for the male protagonist whereas in a less well written work dealing with this taboo subject it would be very easy to decline into stereotypes and portray the pedophile as a one-dimensional evil villain. Likewise the nymphet is portrayed with a variety of personae-reflecting real people rather than just a stereotype!--and not just that of a helpless victim or a seductress. This is a remarkable achievement and, for once, --from all the novels I have read which are considered 'classics'--this one really deserves the accolade. It is without doubt the most engaging, clever and disturbingly brilliant work of fiction I have yet had the pleasure to read.
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39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal, 23 Feb 2004
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ಠ_ಠ (London) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Lolita (Paperback)
The sinister, sensuous, enigmatic, magical, disturbing, breathtaking ‘Lolita’… my all-time favourite book. How many times have I re-read it? Don’t ask. I’ve lost count.
‘Lolita’ has to be one of the very few books that I have come across in my life that has a truly haunting quality. It grips you from the very first words and will not let go until long after you've finished reading it… That is, if you ever dare put it away (‘Lolita’ is a permanent resident of my bedside cabinet). There are so many levels to this novel and so many reasons why it will put you under its spell. Nabokov’s virtuoso command of English language is probably what did it for me when I read it for the first time (am I the only one who finds it hard to believe the author is not a native English speaker?!). I’ve given up trying to analyse this book; instead, I just let my mind drift along the mesmerizing flow of words…
I implore you to cast aside your prejudice and keep an open mind about ‘Lolita’. Forget all you might have heard about it and find out for yourself! This is definitely not a book about paedophilia and sexual perversion; nor does it justify it or make it look attractive. The main character’s obsession is just a backdrop for exploring the darker areas of human nature where no one had dared go before, in a way that no one had done before. You will savour it like a glass of exquisite red wine and will be desperate to make the last drops last when nearing the end. So make yourself comfortable, leave your phone off the hook and let its dark magic do its work…
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Lolita' : an intelligent study of refinement and degradation in one person, 10 Nov 2013
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I loved this book and will dive into it time and again. Why? Because the voice of the book is magnetic; hypnotic. So much more than an erotic book (although it most certainly is that) it is also tender, sensitive, brutally funny, exploitative, self deceiving yet also self confessing. It is a brilliant insight into a complex mind that is chillingly self justifying and murderously criminal. A great study of a fine yet twisted mind. A masterpiece of the 'unreliable narrator'.
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Lolita (Penguin Essentials)
Lolita (Penguin Essentials) by Vladimir Nabokov (Mass Market Paperback - 7 April 2011)
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