Wednesday 3 April 2013

Book Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

'Humbert Humbert - scholar, aesthete and romantic - has fallen completely and utterly in love with Lolita Haze, his landlady's gum-snapping, silky skinned twelve-year-old daughter. Reluctantly agreeing to marry Mrs Haze just to be close to Lolita, Humbert suffers greatly in the pursuit of romance; but when Lo herself starts looking for attention elsewhere, he will carry her off on a desperate cross-country misadventure, all in the name of Love. Hilarious, flamboyant, heart-breaking and full of ingenious word play, Lolita is an immaculate, unforgettable masterpiece of obsession, delusion and lust.'

I read Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita as part of the Eclectic Reader Challenge, which called for a book that was 'made into a movie.'

This book was hard to read for a variety of reasons. Humbert's obsession with Lolita was disturbing to say the least and I detested his use of blackmail to keep her by his side (he essentially kidnaps her and imprisons her for his sexual pleasure). Lolita may be precocious and flirtatious, but she is still an innocent child in many respects and this made his relationship with her utterly disgusting. 

Humbert talks a lot about loving the 'down' of a young girl - her soft body hair not yet affected by the hormones of puberty. He is in love with the girl-child, the 'nymphet' and Lolita is the embodiment of his desire for innocent flesh. Their love affair is nothing more than a way for him to indulge his fantasies. I felt sorry for Lolita who clearly falls victim to his deviance. 

That being said, Lolita has her own issues and uses Humbert's insanity and naivety against him. She is no wallflower, at least not by the end of the novel. She might enter the relationship out of curiosity and playfulness, but it clearly becomes a trap for her quite quickly.  

I found myself disliking Humbert and his narration the further I got in the story. The novel is broken up into two parts and I had a tough time getting through the second part. By this time I'd lost interest in Humbert's crazy, meandering, laborious narrative. The book has been called a masterpiece of dark comedy, but I struggled to find the humour (even dark humour) in this story. Humbert is clearly deluded, a self-absorbed lunatic, and completely messed up. I didn't see him as funny or heart-breaking at all.  

The book's description says it is full of 'ingenious word play', but to me Nabokov's use of language was at times irritating and far too complicated. Interspersing the narrative with French phrases and the over-the-top use of a large vocabulary was not, in my opinion, a genius way of writing. It interrupted the flow and took me out of the story too often for my liking. The 'genius' of this might actually be that Nabokov wrote the novel this way to show just how pompous Humbert is. I came to hate Humbert intensely, so if indeed that was Nabokov's intention his controversial novel 'Lolita' is certainly a success!   


  1. Loved your review... I have been considering reading this book myself.

  2. The first time when I heard about the book was when I was in school, but never had a chance to read it through, albeit in bits and pieces from the school library collection. Now after so many years reading and examining one of toughest novels like Lolita was quiet interesting. To be able to say that for the sake of love if one is wanting to demolishing one's own set of values, morals and the stated norms of love that one grew up feeling comfortable in is, strictly speaking, something of a no-no. Needless to say, it was no less than a struggle to deal with what the novel has to offer me. Above all else, Lolita is a deeply felt and a profound novel dealing with the controversial subject of illicit or illegal love: of a middle-aged literature professor Humbert Humbert obsessed with the 12-year-old lady by name Dolores Haze.