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87 of 94 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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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intellectual paedophilia
Lolita is a book of literary intelligence, style and wit. Vladimir Nabokov has always been able to write and write well that is not in dispute.

Lolita is more about what readers take away from the writing than what was intended or not intended from the text or the author.

During the 1950's many books were censored and banned. Lolita was not one of...
Published on 22 Dec 2007 by Booklover


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87 of 94 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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108 of 118 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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41 of 46 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the 20C's greatest, 14 Jun 2011
By 
rob crawford "Rob Crawford" (Balmette Talloires, France) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Lolita (Paperback)
I recall when I read this in college and was thunderstruck by the imagery, the allusions, and the bizarre humor. For years, it stood out in my mind as one of the greatest novels I had ever read, and it started me on a binge of Nabokov reading of novels that never quite equalled this one. So it was with great anticipation that I re-opened after over 30 years from the first reading. I am happy to say that, as with all truly great works of art, my experience of it today was completely different than my initial one. That, for me, is the mark of great literature: there are innumerable possible readings and ways to see it and put it together as a reflection of reality: it grows along with one's mind and in accordance with one's experience. As such, it is an endless resource for the imagination.

This time around, I did not see it as a book about obsessive love, but about a very sick man trying to control a young person absolutely, to conform to the images and needs of a deteriorating mind. While learned and funny, HH is a horrible person and is twisting Lolita at a crucial point in her early adolescence, damaging her permanently. It is sad and frightening, pathetic and full of despair amidst spurts of (never smutty) ecstacy.

Beyond the incredible intricacy of the plot - a patchwork of clues and deadends - what is a great wonder is the consistent texture of the language, which radiates confusion, lack of direction, and alcoholic depression. SLowly, HH loses his grip on reality and begins to live in a nightmare of dissolution, nihilism, and pain.

This is so good and rich that it will live forever as a classic, with all the layers of Stendahl or Joyce, but written in the Nab's inimitable style. It occured to me that a friend of mine described the Nab's work perfectly: none of the characters, he said, ever feel normal emotions. What the Nab gives us is a way to feel and see these things, all while toying with the reader and occasionally misleading them. It is incredible how different the Nab's books are from eachother, each with some strange, unimaginable central character and HH is perhaps his best.

I will have to read this again...every time, one sees more, makes more connections. If you can stand it.

Recommended with enthusiasm.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the illstration of desires, 3 Feb 2000
By A Customer
Nabokov's literary masterpiece is tantalising to the senses. For me the ultimate pleasure in this novel lies in its ability to discuss and elucidate in its very form the fallible nature of art. Lolita becomes more than just a 'nymphet' in fact she represents and embodies Humbert's desires, having at times 'no life of her own'. Humbert's manipulation of reality enables an essentially vulgar little girl to be metamorphosed into an iconic ideal beauty - into Art itself. Dreams are what we wish them to be. A life changing book.
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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal, 23 Feb 2004
By 
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 "Try to discern the doe in me", 29 Jun 2012
By 
Jack Heslop - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
It's natural to be disturbed and upset by this book's subject matter, but those with an interest in great prose should read Lolita even if they squirm away from it. On the level of pure craftsmanship this novel is perfect. Despite sometimes briefly dipping into other languages, a technique I find assumptive and pretentious, there's no fault I can pick with Nabokov's storytelling. There were times while reading this book when I paused, drew breath and reflected on what I'd just read, my consciousness stunned by its uncompromising beauty. That what Nabokov writes about is strange and perverse is kind of beside the point. His main character, Humbert Humbert, could be a compulsive car thief and this book would be no less haunting. The prose often resembles poetry, evoking spiritual images and internal rhythms. There's even an actual poem towards the climax, by Humbert for his victim, which stands alone as a great work of literature.
Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged scholar haunted by paedophilic urges. He describes young girls as "nymphets", and after renting a room from Charlotte Haze, a widow, he becomes obsessed with her twelve-year old daughter, Dolores (also known as Lolita). She resembles Humbert's childhood love, Annabel Leigh (an Edgar Allan Poe reference; Poe's poem "Annabel Lee" inspired this novel), whose death Humbert considers the beginning of his obsession with female children. Charlotte falls in love with Humbert, and he marries her so he can stay close to Dolores. But as fate would have it Charlotte discovers what he is, and in trying to flee is killed by a passing car (one of the novel's most memorable passages).
I normally dislike such pieces of fortune, when logically a plot should end but needs to continue, so the author manufactures some chance event, but in Lolita it didn't matter. I was so compelled by Nabokov's telling of his tale that I could forgive him a trick or two. After Charlotte's death Humbert gives Dolores an ultimatum: go into foster care or run away with him. She chooses the latter, and so their doomed odyssey begins.
Humbert isn't presented or received (by me at least) as a very sympathetic character. I understood that he didn't choose his desires, and like Dolores is ultimately destroyed by them, but he was also weak, selfish and pathetic. He views Charlotte's death as a chance to snare her daughter, and does so, proving that what conscience he has is subordinate to his lust. The road trip he takes with Dolores is rich and evocative. Both their eventual fates are tragic, and great violence occurs before the story is finished.
Canadian writer Robertson Davies said that Lolita isn't about "the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child." I don't agree with that assessment. Though Dolores shows cunning in some of her decisions she seemed fundamentally innocent to me. Being on the cusp of pubescence her sexual awareness is immature. She lets Humbert molest her because she doesn't have much choice; he's her guardian, and if she wants or needs anything it's up to him if she gets it. Humbert chose to risk damaging her, and even when he acknowledges what he's done there's an air of selfishness about his thoughts. I think he ultimately sees himself as a tragic character, not a selfish monster. "Try to discern the doe in me, trembling in the forest of my own iniquity", he says at one point, and throughout the novel he seems more concerned about the doe than the forest.
Lolita is among the best novels ever written. It could certainly be described as the best of the 20th century without raised eyebrows. It's subject matter is probably even more controversial now given the hysteria about child molestation, but if you're a passionate reader you shouldn't deny yourself this masterpiece. To quote Roger Ebert, "A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it." That also applies to books, especially Lolita, which will electrify the blood of anyone who loves poetry.
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2 of 2 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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2 of 2 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hauntingly Beautiful, 23 Sep 2011
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Vladimir Nabokov was one of the great writers of the 20th century; his love for wordplay, attention to detail and mastery of English prose are all the more stunning given that he is no less talented in French and Russian. All this figures heavily into Lolita, arguably his greatest novel, where knowledge of French can add yet another dimension to the experience. This is one of comparatively few books that truly engage their readers. Nabokov plays with his prose, which at times seems overly strong but matches the content perfectly. Nabokov writes the story in the same way that the protagonist experiences his world, never at face value but always drawing links to emotions, memories and ideas with wordplay, puns and flamboyant prose.

Lolita is by no means a light read, neither in its style, nor in its subject matter. Its central theme of a man's infatuation with a young, seemingly manipulative girl drives this story more than its plot does. This insight into the depraved mind of Humbert Humbert is at times unsettling, although the novel never makes a show of its perversion as contemporary splatter films do. The novel is presented as if written by Humbert himself, and he is a prototype for the unreliable narrator, twisting context and events. Early on he provides us with a sort of Freudian excuse for his behavior, portraying himself as a tragic hero ruined by a love that cannot be, but as we read on we see much and more of Humbert's sick or perhaps only human mind.
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Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
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