Tatiana's Reviews > Lolita

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
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's review
Jun 06, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: classics, 1001, 2012, national-book-award
Recommended for: those who will not fall for Humbert's lies

I wasn't even going to write a review of Lolita after finishing it, because, honestly, how many reviews does this classic need? That is, until I started pocking around and reading what others have to say about it. Many reactions to this book are puzzling to me. In this world of Jerry Sanduskys and such, there are still people who find this "erotic," who in the end feel compassionate towards the narrator, who think that Lolita was the one who seduced and manipulated poor Humbert? Well, I beg to differ.

Lolita is as erotic as Speak is pornographic. As for favorable opinions of Humbert, I guess it is possible this effect can be attributed to Nabokov's mastery of deception. Clearly, Humbert still, half a century after the novel's publication, manages to fool readers, and himself, into believing that he is a dedicated, caring lover, wounded and changed by an early tragic romance. Only occasionally does the truth bleed through his self-delusion - Lolita's wistful glance at a child sitting on his father's lap, a simple act that is forever sallied by Humbert's filth, her disinterest in life, her resignation to satisfy him for pocket money and permission to participate in a school play. No, Humbert did not fool me into feeling sorry for him.

On a technical level, Lolita deserves full 5 stars - the language, the wit, the world play! - I don't think I've ever read anything like this before. But emotionally this look into a pedophile's psyche is so disgusting, I can't quite bring myself to rate it so. Humbert is so sickly real to me, with his apologies, justifications of his behavior, cowardice, sob stories and bending of reality, how does an author create someone like this? How did Nabokov get such an intimate knowledge of someone so despicable?
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Reading Progress

June 6, 2009 – Shelved
September 19, 2009 – Shelved as: classics
November 29, 2009 – Shelved as: 1001
January 1, 2012 – Started Reading
January 1, 2012 –
page 2
20.0% "Jeremy Irons sounds exactly like a perv Humbert is. Great choice of a narrator."
January 4, 2012 – Shelved as: 2012
January 4, 2012 – Finished Reading
January 5, 2012 – Shelved as: national-book-award

Comments (showing 1-50 of 102) (102 new)

Nawar wow just three !!!!

Tatiana I read it years and years ago, like when I was 13, so I had to settle on the most neutral rating, because my memories of the book are very vague. Time for a reread maybe?

J.S. McLean This is one of my favorite books (and one I first read when I was also about 11/12 or so). Interested to see how you view it now.

message 4: by Kwoomac (new) - added it

Kwoomac I read this years ago and rated it low because I just remember feeling sick to my stomach after reading it. Maybe time to take another look at it. Great review.

Tatiana It's still revolting.

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Once, I accidentally fell into reading a thread somewhere here on GR where a group of readers were justifying H.H.'s actions because "Lolita seduced him - it says so right in the text". I wrote out this angry, bitter attack, because how could you miss the point so completely?? Then I didn't post it, because I'm trying to be more mature. As a narrative of self-construction, of self-justification, this is just absolutely amazing stuff. Taking H.H. at his word is so wrong. Nice review.

message 7: by Reynje (new)

Reynje This review is brilliant, Tatiana.

message 8: by Shveta (new) - added it

Shveta Thakrar Thank you for this review, Tatiana.

Tatiana Ceridwen wrote: "Once, I accidentally fell into reading a thread somewhere here on GR where a group of readers were justifying H.H.'s actions because "Lolita seduced him - it says so right in the text". I wrote out..."

There are books that can be interpreted differently, but this one?! People still do not understand things like she is 12 and he tried to drug and there is a difference between two kids messing about and a grown man forcing himself on a child for a quarter or the fact that later on Lolita actually calls him out on having raped her that first night?

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

The posters were mostly women too. It was appalling.

message 11: by Shirley (new)

Shirley Marr Well done Tatiana, you brave and staunch woman:)

Chloe Erotic? Some people... It's nihilistic. It isn't about anything. That's the author's point: that none of the characters are real, and that the story didn't happen, and we'll all read it anyway because the language is so amazing.

Chloe Great review, though. =)

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm following your reviews but I am desperately trying not to read this one as we have to read the novel for my senior thesis course... I guess I'll officially comment in March or something when I've actually read it/can read your review without feeling biased (I heart your reviews and often feel similarly).

message 15: by Krystle (last edited Jan 04, 2012 09:28PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Krystle I love, love, love this book! I think it's a marvelous character study. The language is the most beautiful thing I've ever read. Even more so seeing as how he translated this himself from the original Russian.

Crystal Starr Light I remember feeling that same sort of awe at the wonderful language but repulsion at Humbert and his actions/thoughts/feelings.

Tatiana Krystle wrote: "I love, love, love this book! I think it's a marvelous character study. The language is the most beautiful thing I've ever read. Even more so seeing as how he translated this himself from the origi..."

Krystal, he originally wrote it in English, and then translated it into his native Russian. I've read the Russian version before and, unfortunately, the book loses its charm in translation.

Sandy Great review. I could not agree with you more. Humbert is revolting but the writing is brilliant.

message 19: by Marsha (new)

Marsha Tatiana
I read this book years ago and like you found Humbert to be repulsive. "Adults" should always know right from wrong especially when involving children. While Lolita is viewed as a vixen, she is still a child.

message 20: by Shveta (new) - added it

Shveta Thakrar Marsha wrote: "Tatiana
I read this book years ago and like you found Humbert to be repulsive. "Adults" should always know right from wrong especially when involving children. While Lolita is viewed as a vixen, sh..."

Agreed! And the other part that gets me: even if Lolita had tried to seduce him/been an adult/whatever, is Humbert not an adult who can think for himself? To think otherwise is to blame the victim.

Krystle Aww, really? Bummer. I'm still so amazed by his command of languages though. O_O.

message 22: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Lester Hi Tatiana. Good review. I rated the book five stars, but always enjoy hearing a dissenting opinion. I think most of the sympathy toward HH is misplaced, but I must say that what Nabokov has done in this regard is masterful. I agree that HH is despicable. However, my feelings of sympathy toward him are generated by the fact that he is clearly ill (not an excuse for his behavior) and that he has been imprinted by the template of his first sexual experience; there is genuine pain and remorse (at times) in HH's voice as he tells his story (plus, the non-sexual, daily hindrances that HH must deal with touch everyone in some way, much like the characters in Kafka's work, and in this way contribute to a readers sympathy). Nabokov presents Humbert's feelings as genuinely romantic (in HH's mind, at least) and through the strength of the writing one cannot help but view the world through the narrator's eyes. This is the power of Nabokov. I think the novel ultimately succeeds in this area, that is, challenging readers to either identify with or vilify HH. I don't see Lolita as a seducer, however, she is streetwise and does manipulate HH an a rather adult way (but again, this in no way means that she is the reason or somehow "at fault" for what HH does to her). Quilty seems to be a more clear cut shadow-self of HH, more of a surface villain, so to speak. He is like Dracula in Stoker's novel, never really on stage, but omnipresent. I think he is presented as a foil to HH's feelings of (misguided) morality. I often wonder if men view HH with more sympathy than women do. Despite what many say, I do recommend both film versions of this novel. Again, good review. Much to think about.

message 23: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Lester P.S. I highly recommend reading The Annotated Lolita. The wonderful footnotes peel away many fascinating layers of meaning to Nabokov's rich, playful prose.

message 24: by S. (new)

S. I read this book years ago, when I was 16 and infatuated with my (very much older--he was 51) English teacher and thought, "This is romantic and tragic!" I read it again for a book club 10 years later and phew! What a difference that makes. I still think this book is mad and marvelous, although my view of the relationship between HH and Lo has completely changed. I always thought HH was reprehensible (made even more so by his constant justification of his abuse of Lolita, and even some tiny textual hints that there is far more abuse and manipulation going on than even he describes), but my opinion of Lolita's agency in the entire scenario changed when I read this again as an adult. At 16, I had hubristic belief that I was in control of my own actions, that I knew what I was doing, only to emerge from the other side of 21 shaking my head. Poor little Lo at 12, with her crush on Mummy's dashing lodger, thinking she was in control and that she knew what she was doing--it actually makes me sick. As an adult, all of HH's actions were recast with my adult perspective, and now I see Lo entirely as a victim of his disgusting lusts.

I would agree with Mike in that the man is clearly ill, but I also think his romanticization of Annabel Lee is merely an excuse, his "reason", so to speak. (The entire story is somewhat suspect: the town by the sea, the heroine's name--all harkening to Poe's poem.) I'm far less sympathetic to HH now than I was when I was a teenager: when Lo is being bratty or or cunning, I realise it's because this is the only way she's been conditioned to act on her agency. Her "seductions" of HH for pocket money are because she does not know how else to use her power over him--he only responds to her sexually. (And it's even more sad and disgusting in later passages of the novel, when it's clear he doesn't find 14 year old Lo as sexy as her younger self!) He abducts her after her mother's death, he drugs then rapes her, he keeps her isolated from the company of other women and girls during some crucial years, thereby warping her sense of what is a "normal" relationship between step-father and step-daughter. (She calls him "Dad!" Augh!)

I think the Kubrick version of Lolita is better than the Adrian Lyne version, mostly because Lyne's version treats the story exactly like a tragic love story and seems to paint Lo as a witchy seducer of the helpless, charming (Jeremy Irons-played) HH. She seemed more like a victim in Kubrick's version, which I feel is right. I showed the Lyne version to my roommate, who never read the book, and she walked away CONVINCED Lo was the instigator. *tears hair out in rage*

Tatiana I think because Lolita is written as such a bratty, sexual, starving for attention child, some find it possible to view her as an initiator of the whole affair, a manipulator, completely forgetting that she is, in fact, a child. There are laws that define the age of consent, and there are reasons why they exist. It doesn't take much to interest a 12-year old in things sexual. I myself read this book for the first time at approximately Lolita's age, as probably many other readers, and of course all "naughty" parts titillated and fascinated me. In the case of Lolita, just add in the circumstances of her lacking a father figure, her love for being a center of attention - and here you go, you have her ripe for picking. She might have thrown herself at other men. It took Humbert to take advantage of her.

I suppose Humbert did love her in his own way, but he saw his actions the way it was convenient to him, overlooking the fact that he ruined her as a human being. There was a moment of him realizing just a little bit of the harm he'd done to her in the end of the novel, but what does it matter?

Frankly, it disturbs me greatly that some readers still sympathize with him and romanticize his feelings towards Lolita. When you love someone, you do not destroy that person because you lust after her.

I've read some interviews by Nabokov about the intent behind this work. He says he never meant for this novel to have a message or a moral, he was only interested in writing these characters. It is a proof of Nabokov's brilliance that his portrayal of Humbert if so spot on, yet so ambiguous, that every reader sees him and his relationship with Lolita through a prism of his/her personal experiences. And the way I see him is as a pathetic pedophile who preys on children, bends reality to his convenience, and excuses his actions on every turn. He is in way better than Quilty who at least was open enough about his motives. Humbert hides his nastiness under the pretense of BIG LOVE.

message 26: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Lester I suppose the reasons I find HH somewhat sympathetic have to do with the fact that most people are selfish regarding feelings of "love." Yes, HH was completely destructive and selfish to everyone he came across, but, and I suppose I am betraying myself here, I feel his is perhaps one of the most honest character portrayals in modern literature. Who among us hasn't destroyed someone with selfishness over the course of our lives (and here again I may be betraying myself)? Looking through the veil of the unreliable narrator, taking in all that the concept entails, I feel that HH, despite his many obvious flaws, is perhaps the most reliable voice in the novel. Yes, Quilty was honest in his intentions, but his actual physical presence in the body of the wok is so limited that he is really more of an idea, a shadow, if you will (much in the same way that Vivian Darkbloom is a looming shadow over the whole work, brilliantly and symbolically depicted in Kubrick's film as a dancing, specter-like presence; but perhaps that is reading too much into things). Regarding HH's first love, I see the romanticized allusions to Poe as more honesty than fancy. We must remember that HH is a literature professor and that literary allusions form the basis for his entire worldview. To romanticize his past is to validate it in his eyes. This is all he really knows. Here, in this novel, we have a work of genius, where unreliability is the very picture of reliability. A paradox perhaps, but, I believe, a thought provoking one. And in this instance it seems the novel is entirely a success.

Dominika Found it on the Internet (might be an answer to your question at the end of your review):

Nabokov rated the book highly. In an interview for BBC Television in 1962, he said:

Lolita is a special favorite of mine. It was my most difficult book—the book that treated of a theme which was so distant, so remote, from my own emotional life that it gave me a special pleasure to use my combinational talent to make it real.[61]

Tatiana Thanks for the info.

Lauren I love your review. I read this so long ago as a teenager and was horrified by how many sympathised with Humbert. This book is deeply misunderstood by many.

message 30: by Brie (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brie I think that the genius of Nabokov is the role that the narrator plays in the reader's perception. Humbert believes he is the victim, it's his job to make us believe it. You're right, anyone who finds this novel erotic should talk to someone, but the fact that some people can suggest that Dolores is a seductress shows how well Nabokov wrote a sympathetically unsympathetic character.

Kathy Great review. I had heard so much about this book that I imagined it to be about a girl seducing a man. I was completely confused when I began to read it and discovered that there is nothing remotely erotic about it. In fact it was quite scary and I wondered how the author could imagine this character so realistically myself.

message 32: by Dana (new) - rated it 1 star

Dana West I agree. This is beautifully written while I cringe trying to digest the subject matter. It awes me and nauseates me.

The forward (in my copy) says that this novel is based on actual events. I wonder if Nabakov created HH or took the event and then fictionalized it in order to explore one man's delusion.

message 33: by Rahul (new) - added it

Rahul Kulkarni Your review is great, especially with the final question ending on Nabokov? How could he have known all this? I haven't finished reading the book yet, however I don't know who is giving me the creeps more - Humbert or Nabokov!

message 34: by [deleted user] (last edited Oct 30, 2012 10:06PM) (new)

I agree with you Tatiana. I haven't yet had the stomach to read Lolita; I have read a few chapters and I was torn between wanting to kiss the book and wanting to throw it against a wall in disgust. I will get there but if you really want to read something amazing by Nabokov (or anybody who ever or will exist), read Ada or Ardor. It is a very beautiful story and if you liked the wordplay in Lolita, then you will LOVE Ada. Make sure to get an edition with Vivian Darkbloom's endnotes.

Tatiana Thanks for the recs, Bridget. To my shame, I've never read anything else by Nabokov.

Debahuti and you said it all

message 37: by Beenish (new) - added it

Beenish Siddiqui Great review. The best part is the recommendation you have so aptly worded. Such a classic should not be so grossly misinterpreted. Also I did not know it was written in English first. Thanx.

Jonathan Maybe some (male) readers who say they sympathize with H.H. are clumsily trying to express resonances between Nabokov's narrator and themselves, and the recognition is painful. I don't overlook the crimes in this book, but Nabokov has made his monster out of the human male. This adds to my discomfort when I read this, yet I can't deny the humanity behind the enormity. Someone with a brain and body like me can be tweaked by life and acquire monstrous tastes, going on to hideously mar the innocence of a child. This is scary stuff. I can't cling to the statement "We all know H.H. is lying" to get me through this book. That's just whistling in the graveyard, in my opinion.
I hope no one thinks I'm "against" any previous comments here. I saw a little unvoiced perspective and grew bold enough to add it.

message 39: by Dana (new) - rated it 1 star

Dana West Jonathan, I agree, HH is not lying, he truly believes his perception of reality. He believes that he loves Lo, he believes that what he was doing, although not socially acceptable, was right because of his love for her. Male or female, we can all be monsters because our perceptions of reality are subjective.

Still grosses me out, but so do many news articles about human behavior that I can't digest.

Marina Great review. H.H. is one of the most deceitful of all unreliable narrators ever written.

message 41: by [deleted user] (new)

Thank you for writing this. It's exactly how I felt about the book, which I honestly can't bring myself to finish. The writing skill is excellent; the content is disturbing. Enough said...

Alison I am just a little over half way through and this is exactly how I am feeling about this book...absolutely. The reviews and my pre-conceived notions of this book really misled me on how totally disturbing this look into a pedofiles brain would be

message 43: by Tony (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tony Heyl I'm midway through it and I feel the same exact way as well. So when I review, I'll just say "What Tatiana said"

Francesca Perfect review!

Stephanie I agree, it's written exceptionally,however, I just couldn't enjoy it because it was so disgusting. How the author was able to understand the mind of a pedophile so well is a mystery.

message 46: by Dhiraj (new)

Dhiraj Sharma Pretty impressive review I must say.

Cliff Watt I find myself, not for the first time, thinking how perfectly you've captured what I was thinking about a book in your review Tatiana, great stuff.

Laura Wonderful review, no need for me to write one now. I also found that watching the 1962 movie really demonstrates how well written the book is.

message 49: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 25, 2013 05:34PM) (new)

I totally agree here. I did feel some(very little) pitty for him but I was offended that this deluded man could truly believe he was in love when he really was obsessed. The way he treated her and lied doesn't in anyway spell love to me. I will say I liked it because it tried to delve into a sick mans mind but I hated him as a character.

message 50: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Zabala-Graye Excellent review. I disagree with the need to believe HH is lying as a condition of all the other reactions you had. A moral response would be equally legitimate if he were telling the truth.

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