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on 22 June 2015
This is the only book I have ever loved and bitterly hated at the exact same time.

Vladimir Nabokov, a Russian writer born at the close of the 19th century, undoubtedly penned one of the most beautifully written English language novels of all time. Reading Lolita is like tasting the seductive dark chocolate of Knipschildt’s La Madeline au Truffe with a Balthazar bottle of 2009 Bordeaux from Chateau Margaux while watching the sun set over the Mediterranean. Your senses are utterly overloaded. His magical turn of phrase, synesthetic detail and masterful imagery work to completely capture the heart of the reader. It is bewitching. Indeed, he plays with language like a game of chess, flirting with the intricacies and complexities, weaving patterns through our minds and forcing us to entangle our own emotions within the story. Nabokov was actually an acclaimed chess composer, and Humbert Humbert, his tortured protagonist, finds some solace in the elegant game.

First and foremost, Lolita is a work of art, a poignant celebration of language. Though there may be no obvious moral, as Nabokov himself insists in the afterword, the novel is so emotionally powerful because it forces us to make a connection between the romantic, primeval force of love and the dark territory of pedophilia. It is a sensuous exploration of human desire and the human heart.

A masterful foreword penned by the inspired invention of Dr John Ray sets up the premise of the story by introducing it as the memoirs of the disturbed academic, Humbert Humbert, who recently died in jail. By doing this we can continue reading with the comforting knowledge that he is eventually caught. We really have two Humbert Humberts to deal with, the one living out the events and the one recounting them to us years later. This lends a reserved and thoughtful tone to the narrative, so that some of the most shocking moments are delivered so matter-of-factly they seem, well, clinical. Humbert is obsessed with his disturbing concept of “nymphets”, young girls with a certain innocence, grace and vulnerability. He even fantasizes about ruling over a sort of Lord of the Flies type island of nymphets he can presumably exploit to his heart’s content.

But, ay, there’s the rub.

The thing about Humbert is that he is a man of fantasies. He is not a lunatic, a criminal, or a psychopath, but a troubled academic tortured by his poetic dreams. These dreams suddenly and fortuitously come true when chance sees him become the tenant of glamorous and desperate widow, Charlotte Haze. She just happens to have a daughter . . . Lolita.

Through almost no effort on his part Charlotte falls for him and they are married before you can say, “hang on a wee minute.” He now has the opportunity to get to her little girl. The most shocking moment of the novel, and one of any novel I have ever read, is when Charlotte finds his diary and discovers his secret. She rushes out the house to deliver a handful of urgent letters in such a state of hysteria and despair that she doesn’t notice the car hurtling towards her. She is killed instantly, and Humbert becomes Lolita’s guardian. The rapidity and cold delivery of this event makes it all the more frightening. This is a tragedy related in a monotone.

Humbert continually references Dante’s eternal love for Beatrice in the triumph, The Divine Comedy, which began when the latter was only eight years old, younger even than Lolita, but he seems to forget that Dante was the same age as Beatrice, not three decades her senior. After their first encounter he famously wrote, “La Vita Nuova: Ecce Deus fortior me, qui veniens dominabitur mihi: Behold, a deity stronger than I; who coming, shall rule over me.” Perhaps this is the comparison, because this is precisely what happens to Humbert. Lolita is an utterly omnipotent deity in total control of his heart, the thing is, she just couldn’t care less. Even so, a more fitting comparison would be Sade’s Justine, the notorious twelve-year old pauper who is subjected to a horrific decade of sexual abuse. Written by the even more notorious Marquis de Sade, the book has been banned and censored countless times, and its author spent half his life behind bars as well as his name becoming the origin of ‘sadism’. Some legacy. After Charlotte’s death in Lolita, it is here that Humbert moves into the realm of crime, tearing the helpless and now utterly vulnerable girl from her old life and embarking on a nomadic road trip across the US as he fulfills his fantasies . . .

This gives rise to some truly beautiful exploration of the American countryside, of the raw majesty of the land. It seems to contrast so poignantly with Humbert’s worshipful idolisation of his Lolita, who submits to his sexual fantasies but remains utterly unengaged emotionally. Her cold and childlike indifference, stubbornness and desire to rebel just makes it all so much more horrific. She is like a shell. And it is utterly heartbreaking.

What we must remember is that he is not being driven by lust or sadism or rage or greed or any other immoral and dangerous desire, but by something even more destructive . . . love.

Naturally, Lolita became notorious as soon it was published in 1959, and Nabokov was fully aware it would be, “I have to tread carefully. I have to speak in a whisper.” However, this book could hardly be further from the trashy genre of erotica or the debasing allure of pornography. No, it is a story about a man in love. The oldest most well-known story there is. Humbert is not simply a sadistic pervert, indeed he urges the reader throughout the novel to hear him out, to see beyond social convention and the sanctimonious laws of society. At one point when I was beginning to grimace in discomfort and revulsion, the episode in which he first considers fully taking advantage of Lolita, he writes, “Oh, do not scowl at me, reader.” Then comes the pleading insistence that we do not cast the book aside. It is surreal. Nabokov, as much as his complex poet-pervert creation, is reaching through the decades and speaking directly to us. It is a powerful feat of persuasion and I for one was wholly persuaded.

The prose is truly beautiful. “Cold spiders of panic crawled down my back” . . . What is it about Nabokov’s writing? I have asked myself this many times and keep coming back to the elegance and grace of chess . . . Humbert’s arrival in the US is perhaps the first pawn being moved, Charlotte’s death the first check, his arrest, the final checkmate, and the opponents, well, the opponents can only be his heart and his head. Throughout the entire novel a ferocious internal battle rages within him between his insatiable desire and his cold, academic reason. Who wins? In a way, neither. Desire triumphs in the sense that he essentially kidnaps Lolita and she is utterly at his mercy, but his morality, something that he undoubtedly does possess, battles him every step of the way. The guilt, the crippling remorse, not once is his conscience at peace.

The whole concept of Lolita is so horrific, so immoral, so naturally repulsive to us, it can cloud a simple truth. The truth is, this is a masterpiece. The sheer beauty of the artwork is in the details, in the small scenes and snapshots of such intensity, the very nerves of the book, each delivering a sharp spike of feeling, whether it is horror, mirth, revulsion or shock. Yes, this is the most sensuous and powerful exploration of human desire I have ever read.

"I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita."
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on 13 February 2016
Nabokov was a playful and mischievous writer: few books are as mischievous as "Lolita", a story of a middle aged man’s obsession with a twelve-year-old girl. "Lolita" is a bizarre and brave novel: I cannot think of one other work of note which deals with this theme.

There is one thing which impressed me more and more, as I read through the story: narrator Humbert’s isolation. This isolation is not obvious at first. But you soon begin to notice the signs. His reluctance to let anyone get too close. His reluctance to reveal too much about himself in conversation. The endless, mindless travelling. All this betokens a very isolated person. Indeed, an isolated couple, for Lolita, while she remains with him, is isolated too. Middle-aged Humbert and adolescent Lolita, throughout most of the novel, have to keep their distance from everybody else. They remain isolated from the mainstream of humanity. Some would add that they are living outside the moral universe too.

A word on the narrative style. Lolita is a worthy successor to Wilde’s "Dorian Gray". There is a decadence in both novels; both are written in gorgeous, hothouse-artificial style.

I discovered an interesting sidelight on Nabokov’s novel. Or rather, upon its name. Nabokov lived in Paris for a time, and spoke fluent French. He may have been familiar with a historical novel by Cecil Saint-Laurent, called "La vie extraordinaire de Lola Montès". The real life Lola Montez was a 19th century courtesan, whose lovers included composer Franz Liszt and the King of Bavaria. Saint-Laurent’s book inspired a Max Ophul movie: "Lola Montez". It was released in 1955, the same year that "Lolita" was published. According to one reviewer, Lola in Max Ophul’s movie ‘is merely a passive blank onto which men project their fantasies.’ Which is exactly what Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert does with his own little Lola. He writes about her at great length, and with great eloquence. The bitter irony (and the sadness) is that this Lola is not a high flying courtesan, but a 12-year-old girl who reads comics.
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on 19 June 2017
I really enjoyed reading this, it totally got me back on the book trail. it's sick & twisted but it has so much passion in it! it's written so beautifully probably going to read it again some time soon. there is one point where you wonder if the story is actually going to go anywhere but I promise it does!! read read read!!
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on 4 June 2017
Contrary to popular perception this is not an 'erotic' novel. True, it's context is what we now unequivocally recognise and rightly condemn as paedophilia, but the focus of the novel is on the way humans act on their basic urges such as lust or revenge while wrapping them in justificatory narratives of love, romantic desire, justice and so on, to the point of self delusion and even madness.
Nabokov's language is playful, comic, poetic, thrilling - and tragic.
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on 6 November 2016
A disturbing book but one that cannot be ignored. It's long and the writer is verbose but there is somehow a gritty reality about the story, which makes it the more disturbing as the subject is what we would commonly call paedophilia these days. Erotica without lewd vulgarity or four letter words, this classic leaves the reader hoping that it never really happened.
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VINE VOICEon 21 September 2010
Having read the book like many after hearing about it for so long I have to say its one that leaves the reader with so many emotions you have to put it down, take some time to think before giving any kind of review.

If anyone has seen the remake of the film Lolita then they will find on reading the book that the film is extremely faithful to the book. What the film doesnt reflect however, is that the book is read in the form of the main character standing trial. The book in another words begins at the end so to speak. Humbert beings by telling us (Or rather the jury) Something of historical characters who have all been adults who have been in a relationship or even married to what we would consider children, in this sense he attempts to justify his actions (Though not for me anyway with much joy) He goes on to tell us about his early childhood and upbringing and how he became infatuated with "Nymphets" Which in spite of what some who seem to be sympathetic to the character of Humbert would like us believe are what Humbert himself calls prepubescent girls. In another words, the main character admits himself his own perversion.

If you know even a little of the story you will know that he soon moves in with a woman who has a young (12 year old) Daughter Lolita who is something of a problem child, her mother begins a relationship with Humbert whoes only motive is to get close to Lolita and seek his own opportunity to strike while Lolita's behaviour becomes such that she is sent away to school. Her mother finds out about Humbert's intentions and is killed running away, Humbert goes and picks up Lolita from school and basically kidnaps her where she then becomes the subject of his child molestation. (There simply are no other words for what he does)

Reading this book it is quite remarkable the depth of knowledge the author has on the subject (And at times rather frightening) I dont think for one minute its simply a "Sign of the times" That we are more shocked today by this book than anyone in the past may have been as can be seen by the main characters trial. Is this book disturbing? You bet it is. When you read how he prevents her from speaking to adults as much as possible to avoid her "Giving too much away" Or when he rents a house with her and is pleased with himself because he has a view of a school yard where under age girls play and is upset when workmen block his view. Or how about how pleased he is with his neighbours who dont speak enough English to ask too many questions or ones he happily believes are paedophiles themselves? Hubert may at times regret what he is doing to Lolita but he still doesn't stop himself using. When we read today the reports of child molesters in the news you can see the exact same thing in the actions of Humbert. He hides her away, he buys her off with gifts and money, at one point in the book he becomes fearful she is saving up to run away from him so goes into her room and steals the money back to prevent her. He runs from town to town to prevent people asking too much. The character who does indeed steal her away from him we would know today as being part of a child abuse ring.

Is this book shocking? yes. Can it be considered entertaining? Well I wouldn't have thought so. Is it remarkably well written? Yes.
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on 15 June 2017
I only downloaded this book because it was mentioned in a film I watched. You will certainly need a dictionary and maybe some google French translation for some of the language used. You will have your morals questioned in this book and you will have to decide whether you feel sorry for the main character or think he is just plain evil.
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on 12 May 2018
I bought this when studying for a master's degree in literature. Lolita was one of the books considered in my dissertation. This annotated version helped me considerably when analyzing the themes and so on. Well referenced. Easy to read.
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on 16 March 2014
The subject is a No no, but Nabokov's dark and brilliant word mongering somehow transcends the subject. Any one who has deep and hidden passions, not related to this subject but for any complex feeling, can relate to Humbert humbert and his emotion driven mania, totally out of his own control, leading him to despair and finally total personal destruction. English was his 3rd or 4th Language, a true genius. If you love words rather than a base story line and have never read Nabokov, then pick up any of his books, maybe starting with the Nabokov's Dozen of short stories.
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on 10 March 2015
This book is delicious. I have read it many times but needed a new copy and these Penguins are beautifully produced. This is probably Nabokov's most accessible novel and is a most pleasurable read. There are many different readings to be had but the one thing to remember is that it is your opinion that counts and your enjoyment that is paramount. I will be re-reading this until I can't read any more. It goes hand in hand with Bel Ami by Maupassant as my two favourite books.
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