Dominick's Reviews > Lolita

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
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May 31, 12

bookshelves: classic-literature
Read from March 01 to May 30, 2012

I'm not 100% convinced this one deserves a five star rating, but I'm giving it one just for its sheer audacity. Could this book even be published today? Iffy. And yet it was published in the 1950s! (By Olympia Press, admittedly, which was renowned or notorious, as you prefer, for publishing challenging and controversial books.) Anyway, this is really a tour de force about "Humbert Humbert" (pseudonym assumed by our narrator) and his pedophiliac relationship with "Dolores Haze," or Lolita. Nabokov's afterward comments clearly and succinctly on how this work differs from pornography, but there's nevertheless no doubt whatsoever about what goes on in the relationship. Humbert's a frankly amazing creation. I have no idea of the genuine psychology of pedophiles, but Nabokov makes Humbert into a remarkably complex and understandable figure--clearly a monster (at one point planning on breeding duaghters and grand-daughters for his own sexual pleasure), clearly aware at times of his own monstrosity, yet equally clearly all too often oblivious. He's also, against all expectation, to some degree sympathetic. One might complain that Lolita's flat and characterless, but a huge part of the point is that we're seeing her only as Humbert does, not as a genuinely individual human being--and Nabokov is remarkably skilled at providing hints for the attentive reader that there's more to her than meets Humbert's eye. The language here's rhapsodic, complex, occasionally almost incomprehensible (Nabokov's vocabulary and command of style were superlative), very occasionally ringing a bit false but mostly contributing essentially to the depiction of a clearly mentally unstable narrator. Dense and challenging, remarkably rewarding, but clearly not for all tastes.
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