Lolita (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 3 Feb 2000
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Despite its lascivious reputation, the pleasures of Lolita are as much intellectual as erogenous. It is a love story with the power to raise both chuckles and eyebrows. Humbert Humbert is a European intellectual adrift in America, haunted by memories of a lost adolescent love. When he meets his ideal nymphet in the shape of 12-year-old Dolores Haze, he constructs an elaborate plot to seduce her, but first he must get rid of her mother. In spite of his diabolical wit, reality proves to be more slippery than Humbert's feverish fantasies and Lolita refuses to conform to his image of the perfect lover. Playfully perverse in form as well as content, riddled with puns and literary allusions, Nabokov's 1955 novel is a hymn to the Russian-born author's delight in his adopted language. Indeed, readers who want to probe all of its allusive nooks and crannies will need to consult the annotated edition. Lolita is undoubtedly, brazenly erotic, but the eroticism springs less from the "frail honey-hued shoulders ... the silky supple bare back" of little Lo than it does from the wantonly gorgeous prose that Humbert uses to recount his forbidden passion: "She was musical and apple-sweet ... Lola the bobby-soxer, devouring her immemorial fruit, singing through its juice ... and every movement she made, every shuffle and ripple, helped me to conceal and to improve the secret system of tactile correspondence between beast and beauty--between my gagged, bursting beast and the beauty of her dimpled body in its innocent cotton frock. " Much has been made of Lolita as metaphor, perhaps because the love affair at its heart is so troubling. Humbert represents the formal, educated Old World of Europe, while Lolita is America: ripening, beautiful, but not too bright and a little vulgar. Nabokov delights in exploring the intercourse between these cultures and the passages where Humbert describes the suburbs and strip malls and motels of post-war America are filled with both attraction and repulsion: "Those restaurants where the holy spirit of Huncan Dines had descended upon the cute paper napkins and cottage-cheese-crested salads." Yet however tempting the novel's symbolism may be, its chief delight--and power--lies in the character of Humbert Humbert. He, at least as he tells it, is no seedy skulker, no twisted destroyer of innocence. Instead, Nabokov's celebrated mouthpiece is erudite and witty, even at his most depraved. Humbert can't help it--linguistic jouissance is as important to him as the satisfaction of his arrested libido. --Simon Leake --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
He did us all an honour by electing to use, and transform, our language. (Anthony Burgess)
Nabokov can move you to laughter in the way that masters can - to laughter that is near to tears. (The Guardian)
There's no funnier monster in modern literature than poor, doomed Humbert Humbert. (The Independent)
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However, it is also the most sordid, depraved book I have ever read. If you have any qualms about child sex, read no further. I have two daughters (luckily they have no stepfather) if either of them had been led astray in the way Dolores / Lolita was I would, too, have killed him.
- It is uncomfortable; for me personally, anything that can push boundaries successfully deserves credit.
- It's thought provoking and offers a completely different perspective, one which many I doubt will have previously considered.
- It has the potential to change the way a reader views the subjects involved in the book.
It's one of those books I couldn't put down until I'd finished it yet it was so good I didn't want it to end! I would recommend this book to any open-minded, mature reader.
My one caveat is that the second half is too long, and the charm of the characters begin to fade as the story loses some of it's centre while it focuses, not on development, but on meandering in terms of story and language. It's beauty fades with age, the true disappointment of this book is that is begins so absolutely 'fine' that in comparison the third quarter of the book seems so lazily diffuse as to actually grate on the reader.
In spite of there being more book than needed the actual quality of writing and characters rarely, if ever, wavers, and because Nabokov's standard is so, so diamond, it still has a place in my heart as a worthy and irresistable read.
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Puzzling in parts especially in today's 'climate'.