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110 of 121 people found the following review helpful
on 21 February 2003
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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126 of 143 people found the following review helpful
on 21 June 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 July 2002
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
on 22 February 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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45 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on 21 August 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 April 2012
I can't write anywhere near as well as Nabokov, so I'm not even going to attempt to!

Let's just say that this is the best book I have ever read. The heineous subject matter gives it its brilliance; those who think that it glorifies paedophilia sorely miss the point. There seems to be the ocassional reader who does not like this book: to that I would say, there will always be those who do not like the style of a work, no matter how great.

I am hungry for more writing that is as genius as this!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 November 2013
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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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 29 December 2003
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 May 2008
This is by far my most favourite book in the world ever! Words cannot describe how much I adore this book. It is true the subject matter is uncomfortable to think about especially today. Considering that English is not Nabokov's first language he writes it so beautifully that almost every page has a line which really sounds lyrical, rythmic and just plainly beautiful.
The book pulls your moral thoughts all over the place. The question; who takes advantage of who? is one which I always come back to, and like to ask the people who read it.
I have read this book about four times which I almost never do and I recommend it to everyone I read. It is, I suppose, an example of how something can be beautiful and wrong at the same time. It is also ultimately a book about love. Unrequited love, forbidden love, consuming love, manipulative love. There are so many aspects to love explored in this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 February 2012
I think the story is still quite shocking even by today's standards, but once you get past that and just agree with yourself to stop being appalled and enjoy the book, you realise how amazingly well written it is and what an intriguing story this is. This was the general consensus of everyone in my bookclub so despite the subject matter everyone really enjoyed it.
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