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[Lolita Unknown Binding – 1957

4.2 out of 5 stars 259 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Unknown Binding
  • Publisher: Doubleday (1957)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0007FR416
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (259 customer reviews)

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Format: 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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
There is a law that requires anyone writing a review of Nabokov's novel to begin with the words "But, first, I should point out that child molestation is morally indefensible."

Strangely, no such law exists requiring similar caveats at the beginning of, for instance, American Psycho. But then we already knew that it's not the done thing to abduct, torture, rape and then kill women. Or indeed to abduct, torture, kill and THEN rape them. Pshaw. Let me begin by saying that, groping children is WRONG. Just don't do it.

That said, it's telling that when I Googled for a really well written erotic novel, the first one that comes up on several lists is a story about a kiddy fiddler. Go figure.

By turns, erotic, romantic, sordid, ironic, comic and tragic.

Romantic: The childish love affair between the young Humbert and his sweetheart Annabel - all unfulfilled fumblings and unconsummated gropings - is sweet and poignant. And yet it is what sets the man on the path to paedophilia.

Comic: Humbert's disdain for his "comedy wife", Valeria and her taxi driving, White Russian colonel beau. The laughs are the nasty, judgemental sort, the kind that you're secretly ashamed of.

Erotic: I'm sorry, but Nabokov's lingering description of the nymphet Lolita IS erotic. Of course it transgresses the most sacrosanct of social boundaries, but it is all the more prurient for it.

Sordid: Humbert attains his loins' desire and takes the (mostly willing) Lo on what he intends to be a paedophillic road trip around the American mid-West. Not graphically rendered, but even Humbert knows he's doing wrong (and he revels in it).
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