EVERYONE Has Read This but Me - The Catch-Up Book Club discussion

Lolita
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CLASSICS READS > Lolita - *SPOILERS*

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Catherine | 1152 comments Mod
This discussion is for the September 2019 Classics group read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

*SPOILERS THREAD* This discussion will be full of spoilers.

If you haven't read the book already and don't want to spoil the ending, hop on over to the SPOILER FREE DISCUSSION.

What did you think of the read? Would you read again or recommend it to a friend? What surprised you the most or was it what you expected?


Kristin Ames (kmames) | 152 comments I read this a few years ago so I won’t be doing a reread this soon, but Lolita quickly became one of my favorites. Even though I had a knot in my stomach and felt incredibly uncomfortable the whole time I read it, I really look at Lolita as a masterpiece. Humbert Humbert is absolutely unforgettable and I love/hated how Nabokov could make me find Humbert charming and like-able even though he’s a trash person. Sometimes I’d find myself laughing at Humbert’s jokes and sarcasm and have to remind myself that he was a vile, wretched human being.

It’s also ridiculously creepy and horrifying to experience this novel from the view of a hebephile. As someone who works in the field dealing with this type of offender population, I found Nabokov’s portrayal of Humbert to be eerily spot-on.


Renee (elenarenee) Kirstin I agree with you. The book does make you see things the way Humbert Humbert does. The horror for me is that I actually found myself buying into his thinking. He made things sound so normal.


Genevieve | 17 comments Kristin and Renee-
Everything you both wrote is spot on. This book is disturbing, more because of how the content highlighted my sick and twisted thoughts rather than the content itself.

What surprised me was the realism in raising a teenager and that those moments were where I most empathized with HH and felt his humanity. I also admired him for trying to be a normal human being with his first marriage.
This and more points to a level of depravity in myself that I didn’t know existed. How on earth could I have been hoping that HH could get rid of Lo’s mom to be with Lolita?! I’ve finally decided that the writing is just that good.

I have also concluded that everyone who said they read this book weren’t being truthful. (I doubt they read the whole thing.) They told me it was pornographic, simply smut. And yes, there are graphic and uncomfortable scenes, but it wasn’t the glorification of pedophilia that I was led to believe. After the first half it became more of a case study in manipulation and sexual abuse of a willful child. I was fascinated.

My favorite parts were the descriptions of the motels. I laughed to the point of tears with the sounds in a motel and finding the right shower temperature. It’s so brilliant that I think it would make an excellent monologue for a theater audition. The writing is superb.

My take away - everyone is doing the best they can and it is possible to fall in love with and excuse individuals who commit heinous crimes. A villain and a hero are more fluid than I realized before this book.


NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 536 comments Genevieve wrote: "Kristin and Renee-
Everything you both wrote is spot on. This book is disturbing, more because of how the content highlighted my sick and twisted thoughts rather than the content itself.

What sur..."


I think that's why some considered it porn, because it stimulates
"unwholesome" thoughts. I remember reading about an organization years ago that supported man-boy love, claiming it was not abusive, it was love. (You can't help who you love?) Maybe for some that was true. In other civilizations there were/are outlets for men to satisfy those needs. They might argue that when we demonize and criminalize it, victims are more likely to be murdered to keep them quiet.


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John Anakwenze | 18 comments Genevieve, i am reading the novel at the moment, it is absolutely a great read and i do agree with some of your comments. I am a bit hampered by his constant use of French language for good measure.


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Storm | 169 comments I didn't like this when I tried to read it a while back. It wasn't just the subject matter, which can be difficult, but it was boring. Maybe it had beautiful writing like people say, but it wasn't for me.


Kimberly | 2 comments It’s taken me a few days to completely wrap my head around how I felt about this book. The juxtaposition of the beautiful, fluid writing with the disturbing premise confused me as I also found myself wanting Humbert to be a hero. Truth is, he’s the furthest thing from it. I will say all the French phrases slowed me down and I was grateful to be reading on a Kindle so as to easily get the translation. This book has been on my To Read list for a long time and I’m glad I finally did.


Nico (nicoreads) | 28 comments Humbert is a fantastic example of an unreliable narrator. He's so untrustworthy and contrary that even readers who know his crimes may be taken in, and his victim has become both movement(s) and synonymous for a young woman who is sexually precocious. Reading it, I unhappily recognize the victim-shaming environment we live in. How young girls who may experiment sexually are therefore sexualized early and seen as prey by older men because of their experimentation when often that experimentation is benign.

Lolita herself is an interesting character. The fact that after so long she is still seen, as a girl of 12, as the seducer of an adult man, is laughable. That she's some "temptress" just by possessing thighs and a mouth and eating food in a specific (often childish) way all in order to, supposedly, torture H. H. Her mother was awful, her home life seemed stifling and emotionally abusive before Humbert even came along, and her recognition in intervals that Humbert is indeed a sexual predator, yet once again she falls for another predator, is a tale as old as time. I found it interesting that at times even Humbert seemed to regret that his actions would rob "his Lolita" of ever becoming Dolores the tennis star, or whatever else she could have been.


Carmen (TheReadingTrashQueen) (thereadingtrashqueen) | 60 comments I just finished this and absolutely loved it. This is the first time where I can honestly say I loved the writing, as normally I don't pick up on such things. I listened to the audio and the French was authentic, but I only understood snippets of it. It didn't take away from my enjoyment, though, and it added to his character.

I have read countless age gap stories, mostly in fanfiction, and am used to it, but never have I read one with a child this young. (15 is my absolute limit and it has to be consensual- Lolita held neither) Being used to it took the shock factor out of it for me (and kept me from sympathizing with him), together with my fervent belief that any form of pedophilia is a mental disease. These people don't choose to be attracted to minors, but they do choose to act on it and that's where it goes wrong. That's when they become a criminal. I wish our society would be open to help these people instead of locking them up immediately (or to just help them so they never will), though of course punishment should still be a thing. It's just a shame how many people's lives are ruined because of all this- adults and children alike.

It was therefore very interesting to me to read from HHs POV. I was scared I would be almost rooting for him, like some of you have mentioned, but I didn't have that one bit. I think it's because of my mental limit. I was thoroughly disgusted by how he treated her, and the way he thought of her and how to keep her with him. But, I then was also intrigued by the fact that he knew what he was doing was wrong. I wish it had let him stop himself, but that's just a hope I'll have for in real life.

I really appreciated the ending, though the murder of Q was a bit anticlimactic and basically him killing himself without him knowing it. I just really loved that he wanted to share his story, but not until after Lolita had passed, to spare her the pain and humiliation. And of course that after all's been said and done, he knows/regrets he ruined her life and wishes her all the best.

This is a book that will stay with me for a long time, and I'll recommend it to people who I'm sure could handle this book. I will definitely read it again, maybe in print next time, though the audio is exceptionally good. Jeremy Irons is a master!


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Lory Sakay | 7 comments I read this years ago in college and loved it; definitely a re-read is in order 30 years later. lol. If you enjoyed this may I suggest reading All the Ugly and Wonderful Things which covers the same, sexually charged topic and creates that aura of shock and discomfort that Nabokov was so successfully able to do.


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Lory Sakay | 7 comments Renee wrote: "Kirstin I agree with you. The book does make you see things the way Humbert Humbert does. The horror for me is that I actually found myself buying into his thinking. He made things sound so normal."

So "Dexterish", right?


Renee (elenarenee) LOL I love that. I have now added Dexterish to my vocabulary.


message 14: by Lory (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lory Sakay | 7 comments Renee wrote: "LOL I love that. I have now added Dexterish to my vocabulary."

Glad I could be of assistance. :)


Natty S (cindyneal) | 17 comments This is my third reading of this book (though I'm not going to finish this re-read by the end of Sept.), and I'm struck again by how damn funny this book is. But then, I do have a sick, sarcastic sense of humor. ;-)

Lolita is a brilliant book for so many reasons. Nabokov writes beautifully ("the question mark of a hair") but also has so much fun with words. His characters are so realistic. I love the sexual competition between mother and daughter. The way Dolores aka Lolita is that heady mixture of childish exuberance and adolescent sulkiness. The way she is just beginning to appreciate her sexual agency but is in way over her head with Humbert. The way Humbert is a monster who is witty, angsty, pretentious, and has enough self-awareness to know that he is a monster--which is what makes him just sympathetic enough to be willing to read what he has to say.

As for the narrative arc, it is slow to get going, though on this third reading I'm appreciating just how much is going on in the intro and first several chapters that I missed the first time around (like that Dolores dies in childbirth). And I've always found the middle part where they are traveling around America to drag a bit. That said, the scene where Humbert shoots Quilty are tragicomedy at its finest. It's so so so hard to write well and I don't know anyone who does it better than Nabokov.

I had always wondered why people saw this as an "erotic" novel as Nabokov does not write any of the sex scenes explicitly or with the intent to titillate. That said, as I read it now, I suppose Humberts descriptions of his arousal could be considered erotic for some, I guess. Mostly, it's such a sad story, even as it is wickedly funny.

Genevieve said:
This and more points to a level of depravity in myself that I didn’t know existed. How on earth could I have been hoping that HH could get rid of Lo’s mom to be with Lolita?! I’ve finally decided that the writing is just that good.

In another group they were read Pale Fire, the forward to which by philosopher Richard Rorty mentions that both Pale Fire and Lolita are meant to be read as a sort of discussion between the two sides of our nature: good and bad. We all have elements of ourselves that are narcissistic, selfish, and even predatory on some level and parts that are thoughtful, kind, and generous. That there's a little Humbert and a little Lolita in all of us. And that Nabokov sort of indulges our Humbert side with fancy writing and humor before reminding us that Lolita is a child who cries herself to sleep every night with Humbert.

A villain and a hero are more fluid than I realized before this book.

What a lovely line!

Carmen said:
I wish our society would be open to help these people instead of locking them up immediately (or to just help them so they never will), though of course punishment should still be a thing. It's just a shame how many people's lives are ruined because of all this- adults and children alike.

While I absolutely believe in the need for statutory rape laws, moral panics do not help children in the end. Like you say, they ruin the lives of both adults and children.


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Jay Sandover Anyone pick up on all of the fairy tale elements of the book?


Carmen (TheReadingTrashQueen) (thereadingtrashqueen) | 60 comments Don't think so?? Now I'm curious!


message 18: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay Sandover Look at some of the names in the class list from Dolores's class. Then, Enchanted Hunters, then all of the apples associated with Dolores... just to start.


Carmen (TheReadingTrashQueen) (thereadingtrashqueen) | 60 comments Jay wrote: "Look at some of the names in the class list from Dolores's class. Then, Enchanted Hunters, then all of the apples associated with Dolores... just to start."

I listened to the audio, so those names pretty much got lost. I love that though!


message 20: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay Sandover That's cool. How was the audio book?


aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 543 comments I was struck by the number of times HH was institutionalized for mental illness - twice - mentioned in the early chapters after his failed attempt at married intimacy with an adult woman. Meeting Lolita prevented another breakdown he felt he was close to having for the third time.

HH believes his obsession with little girls began when he was thirteen, after being friends with a twelve-year-old girl. He never said what he was diagnosed with during his breakdowns, but said upfront he was driven insane by his need of sex and intimacy with a certain body-type of 9-12 year old girl. He noticed them everywhere but they were too well guarded by their over-fleshed bourgeois (i.e., for him, dull and insipid) mothers. He likes girls with 29-inch hips, 17-inch thighs, chests of 27 inches, 78 pounds, height 57 inches, arms of 8 inches (the author and HH could not be more explicit in this 'memoir'). HH is frank and honest, this is a complete confession. He knows he is crazy, he lays it all out. His passion is compulsive, minute details of body, skin, legs, arms, smell, juvenile vulgarity, are absolutely an obsession, constantly thought about, detailed in diaries to revisit and excite himself.

And we readers are horrifyingly titillated!

When he married Charlotte, he prepares to drug both Charlotte and Lolita in order to rape Lolita while both are unconscious. The plan was made unnecessary by "the Haze woman's accident". But he had saved up the pills and had outlined his plan completely to us, fully ready to carry it out.

His physical need, and its specificity, made me feel absolutely appalled. My skin literally was crawling, often.

But.

If the writing hadn't been so good, and damn it, funny, I wouldn't have liked this book at all. As it is, clearly we readers have been seduced much the same as unlucky Lolita. HH is a monster, a beautiful monster. Omg, how susceptible we are!


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

Jay Sandover aPriL does feral sometimes wrote: "I was struck by the number of times HH was institutionalized for mental illness - twice - mentioned in the early chapters after his failed attempt at married intimacy with an adult woman. Meeting L..."

Do you like unreliable narrators in general?


aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 543 comments Yes, I do. But in this book, HH certainly is not the unreliable narrator! He is a straightshooter! Pun intended.


message 24: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay Sandover aPriL does feral sometimes wrote: "Yes, I do. But in this book, HH certainly is not the unreliable narrator! He is a straightshooter! Pun intended."

I like that. You don't think he invented Quilty? You trust HH?


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Celine (amarille) | 11 comments I haven’t seen any of the movies. I knew about the book, but I thought that Lolita was older, and that the relationship was more consensual than what is described. What shocked me was the quote from a magazine on the cover saying this is a true love story. I didn't think there was love there, except maybe right at the end? Or maybe his story with Annabella was love. With Lolita it was more about lust and passion and being possessive than real love.
I thought it was clever of Nabokov to have HH narrate the story in such a pleasant, light tone. It makes him sound very charming but at the same time more devious as well. I mostly felt sad for Lolita, she was trapped into it.
What I didn't like was all the Latin and French quotes (even though I understand French), that are not translated. It always annoys me when writers do that, as if they do it on purpose to make readers feel inferior if they don’t understand. Overall, I don’t think I’ll read another of his books in the near future.


message 27: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay Sandover Celine wrote: "I haven’t seen any of the movies. I knew about the book, but I thought that Lolita was older, and that the relationship was more consensual than what is described. What shocked me was the quote fro..."

Celine, if you haven't already decided to avoid his novels, I wish I could convince you to read Pale Fire some time. It has the same kind of charming, unreliable narrator, but his obsessions aren't so criminal and revolting.


message 28: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay Sandover In the margins of my copy of the book, I wrote the word fate next to seven passages. Anyone have thoughts on fate or destiny in this book? On Dolores' class list, there's a character named Aubrey McFate. He likes his jokes.


aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 543 comments Fate is a convenient excuse for a predator, hunting down a victim.


message 30: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay Sandover aPriL does feral sometimes wrote: "Fate is a convenient excuse for a predator, hunting down a victim."

Oh, I think the novel is deeper than that. Nabokov is doing more than that.


aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 543 comments What is Nabokov doing?


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John Anakwenze | 18 comments HH made good use of his sound education and masterful writing to draw us in for we are suckers for beautiful ,mesmerising language .Like a con artist, he nearly succeeded with me, at times he sounded so convincing in his behaviour that I sheepishly and unwittingly went along with him. I did not realise until I read this novel that am such a weakling to be so easily dragged along effortlessly. It got to a point where I was even urging him on. I am now the one in urgent need of redemption, and not HH.
Would I have read this novel if I had any idea about its contents, my answer would be categorically- NO.


Natty S (cindyneal) | 17 comments John said: I did not realise until I read this novel that am such a weakling to be so easily dragged along effortlessly.

I think that's the whole point of this novel--or good fiction in general; it shows us who we really are. It forces self reflection and, hopefully, catharsis. Though with this novel, I don't know if the reader is really meant to feel redemption. More profound unease.

Jay asked: I wrote the word fate next to seven passages. Anyone have thoughts on fate or destiny in this book? I wrote the word fate next to seven passages. Anyone have thoughts on fate or destiny in this book?

What were the seven passages? I've always thought that Charlotte Haze's death was a bit convenient but accidents do happen. I suppose every book gets one deux ex machina, provided it's believable. Dolores's death is certainly fated. Humbert's ending up in prison is fated. I suppose it's what makes this such a tragic story (as opposed to erotic, as so many people insist on describing this book).

He does like his jokes. Oh but doesn't he? It's among the reasons I love Nabokov. :-) And agree about Pale Fire. It's a bit of work, but it so pays off.

I agree with aPriL though; Humbert is not an unreliable narrator. An immoral one, yes. But one who is telling the truth as best as he sees it. Why do you think he made up Quilty? He's in prison for shooting him. Perhaps I missed something somewhere (which is easy to do with this novel; it's my third time through and I'm amazed at how much I missed the first two times--why Nabokov is said to have said that only second readings count!) suggesting something else?


Carmen (TheReadingTrashQueen) (thereadingtrashqueen) | 60 comments Jay wrote: "That's cool. How was the audio book?"

Apologies, I haven't been on my laptop in a few days. The audio book was brilliant! Jeremy Irons (Scar from the animated Lion King) did such a good job.


Carmen (TheReadingTrashQueen) (thereadingtrashqueen) | 60 comments Your discussions are so interesting! Makes me realize how much I didn't notice, or have forgotten since, like him being instutionalized. Definitely gonna need a physical copy of this!


Natty S (cindyneal) | 17 comments I can second how much Jeremy Irons rocks reading this book. The one downside is that it can't get across some of the word play in the text. I'm definitely noticing so much that I missed (or forgot as I have terrible short-term memory) as I read the print version.


message 37: by Cheryl (last edited Oct 06, 2019 07:54AM) (new)

Cheryl (cherylllr) | 972 comments Please forgive a blunt question, even though I am not reading the book. If Nabokov is such a great writer, why are his other works not more widely read? I would argue that the subject matter is what intrigues many readers. After all, his next most popular book has only 1/20th the ratings of this, and the next only half of that. Why don't all admirers of this at least try to read his other works?

Maybe a lot of readers just want to see what all the hoopla is about this, and don't actually appreciate the writing, the talent? Pale Fire is much more highly rated (by the GR members who gave it stars).... If readers (in general) weren't interested in the content of this book, why wouldn't they start with PF? (I do have PF and Pnin on my list.)


message 38: by aPriL does feral sometimes (last edited Oct 06, 2019 11:14AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 543 comments Cheryl wrote: "Please forgive a blunt question, even though I am not reading the book. If Nabokov is such a great writer, why are his other works not more widely read? I would argue that the subject matter is wha..."


I plan to read his other books. I read this one because it won the club's vote. Otherwise, I probably would have never read a Nabokov novel, since "so many books, so little time". In my case, I am in my 60's, tick tock, maybe fifteen years left to read on Earth....


message 39: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl (cherylllr) | 972 comments Fair enough!


message 40: by Natty (last edited Oct 09, 2019 09:37PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Natty S (cindyneal) | 17 comments In addition to Lolita, I've only read Pale Fire, his famous short story, "Signs and Symbols," and listened to his piece My Russian Education on the New Yorker podcast (which may be a selection from Speak, Memory? which I own but haven't yet read). I think you're correct, Cheryl, that people read Lolita because it's supposedly so salacious (I suspect most of them get bored pretty fast). Pale Fire was the work that made me bow at the feet of Nabokov and worship him as a literary god. It's not a perfect book, but the fact that he makes such a convoluted premise not only work but enjoyable just blew me away. I suspect more people don't read him because he can take a bit of effort. Certainly Pale Fire is work. But I, too, plan to read more of his work.

LOL - maybe we should start a Nabokov book of the month club?


aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 543 comments Natty wrote: "In addition to Lolita, I've only read Pale Fire, his famous short story, "Signs and Symbols," and listened to his piece My Russian Education on the New Yorker podcast (w..."

Sounds good to me!

; )


message 42: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay Sandover Natty wrote: "In addition to Lolita, I've only read Pale Fire, his famous short story, "Signs and Symbols," and listened to his piece My Russian Education on the New Yorker podcast (w..."

Natty - I'd join. Pale Fire is a stunner, a masterpiece, imho.


message 43: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl (cherylllr) | 972 comments I'd join too. I have no idea whether I'd be willing to participate month after month, but I'd love to try.


Jennifer | 227 comments Storm wrote: "I didn't like this when I tried to read it a while back. It wasn't just the subject matter, which can be difficult, but it was boring. Maybe it had beautiful writing like people say, but it wasn't ..."

I too felt this to be dull. Perhaps it is best read as part of a class where there is discussion. But this isn’t an audiobook to listen to while making lunches etc. I didn’t enjoy this book.


Caramell | 45 comments It happened the same to me. I had this book on my to read list for a long time and when it was chosen for the club I thought "finally this is the moment". Although I can see why it is considered a classic or a good book, I felt bored most of the time, it took me ages to finish and I wouldn´t read it again.


message 46: by Renata (last edited Sep 01, 2021 12:22AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Renata (renatag) | 459 comments Mod
Hello Readers!
Welcome everyone to our September 2021 Catch-Up Group Read; this month we'll be reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. This is our second group reading of this classic book.

Friendly reminder that this is the SPOILERS thread - if you're not yet ready for spoilers then head on over to the pre-read thread here: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

Do you trust Humbert's telling of this story? Did you feel any sympathy for him?


Phoenix (faennyx) | 45 comments I just finished part 1 and urghhh. I was uncomfortable since the very beginning but for the last few pages I read, my face was in a permanent wince. On the last sentence of part 1, "You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go.", I let out an actual whine. The poor girl!

How can I have any sympathy towards this man? Someone who thinks himself justified, nay, thinks himself to be the hapless victim of a child's "seduction"? Someone who sees "sexual demons" inside adolescent girls?

The writing in this is absolutely gorgeous and, if I step back and and assess it from an emotionally remote point of view, this provides an interesting exploration of a depraved character. So yes, it's a wonderful book. No, I'm not enjoying it even one bit.

Pray that I'll survive part 2 without damaging this book, it's from a library.


message 48: by Betsy (new)

Betsy | 813 comments Mod
I hear you im_fwee(nyx). It's a hard read precisely for what you said above, gorgeous writing, incredibly depraved subject. It's a hard contradiction to face.


Elysa (ebees) | 3 comments Oof, finished it last night. Quite a challenging book and I'm glad to have read it, although like im_fwee I did not enjoy it. As of now, this is the second most disturbing book I've ever read, beat only by The Girl Next Door (which is also based on a true story of the destruction of a young girl's childhood).


Milli | 32 comments This honestly wasn't what I was expecting! I knew the subject and general plot, but I thought we would get more unreliability and Humbert justifying his actions, trying to make it sound like a grand love story we would have to critically assess to get to the disturbing truth. Instead, I thought it was all pretty grim, and I have no idea how it has been romanticised. I'm glad I read it but I'm not sure I'd recommend it.


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