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This book simply has to be my favourite; it is... dark, bitingly witty, melodically intertwining, incessantly cruel--

 

 

It's about pedophilia. And murder.

 

 

I mean, really.

 

 

The premise of the book is that it is the plea of a condemned man (Humbert Humbert), written from his jail cell where he resides because he killed a man named Quilty. His argument is that he did society a favour by ridding it of such a twisted pervert, but he should go to jail anyway for seducing his 12-year-old step-daughter, Lolita.

The controversial subject matter aside... the words astound me every time I read it. (That and the fact that it makes gratuitous references to one of my favourite Edgar Alan Poe poems, Annabel Lee.) It's a complex, unique and rich narrative that continues to be witty, even while the protagonist (if one could call a pedophile such a thing) flip-flops from self loathing to apathy to adoration. Nabokov subtly manipulates the reader, inducing surprising reactions (like when, while reading, you realize one of the many surreptitiously humourous ironies woven into the characters/plot).

 

Suffice to say I love it... but what do you think? If you liked it, why? If not, why not?

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I am going to say the sentence that I seem to say most often on here - it's on my tbr pile! I have nearly started it a few times, but keep getting sidetracked by other books :o

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Like Ruth I've always meant to get round to this and simply never have. You certainly encourage me to improve my efforts, C&PP!

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I read this many years ago and remember finding it quite different to what I had expected. i don't remember it being a "pleasant" book. The seduction of Lolita is uncomfortable (especially if I remember correctly she isn't a virgin) particuarly in a country like America where childhood and youth have such a strong hold.

 

An interesting contrast with this is Colette's Gigi. She is slightly older at 15 but the contrast between the supposed innocence of Lolita and Gigi's naievete in spite of being brought up to be a mistress are fascinating.

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It's been a long time since I read it, but it's easily one of my favourite novels, probably because Nabokov writes the most wondrously constructed sentences. He was a true master of the English language, and it's that and the book's humour (as C&PP said) which make it stand out.

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I'm another of the 'want to read it' brigade, but it hasn't even made it to the TBR pile yet...although Ada has

 

C&PP, I have put part of your post inside "spoiler" tags, as it gives away plot details (one of them was unknown to me) which might spoil the book for new readers.

 

To use 'spoilers' in future posts, type [sp@iler] type the text you want, then type [/sp@iler]. In each case replace @ with o (I had to use @, or the instructions would not be visible ;) )

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Its also many years since I read "Lolita" or seen the great director Stanley Kubrick's film version starring James Mason and Peter Sellers. It was a set text on my American Studies degree's postwar literature course; Nabakov was a US citizen when the book was published.

 

Elfstar's singled out the key thing that makes the book so uncomfortable, which is its ambiguity. Humbert Humbert's deliberately opaque narration seems to suggest Lolita is leading him on and is already sexually experienced. Is this the bragging of an overall not really very pleasant girl trying to sound older than she really is, or a paedophile trying to justify his actions? We never find out.

 

The deliberately flowery language can sometimes make the book a bit of a chore to read - like Joseph Conrad, Nabakov was a non-native English speaker who sometimes seemed unable to resist showing off his mastery of the language, sometimes to his detriment - but it is for various reasons a milestone in literature.

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The deliberately flowery language can sometimes make the book a bit of a chore to read - like Joseph Conrad, Nabakov was a non-native English speaker who sometimes seemed unable to resist showing off his mastery of the language, sometimes to his detriment

 

It's this - as well as the subject-matter - that made it an uncomfortable read for me when I read it back in the early 80s.

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I'm sorry for the spoilers, Meg! I'm silly, but I'll definitely keep that in mind from now on. C:

 

<b>@Grammath & Bill:</b> See, I found the ambiguity fascinating; trying to guess at what was even remotely true and what was the fabrication of a sick mad man was all apart of what made it a continuously engaging read. For me, that is. That said, I can totally understand why someone would find the subject matter, and the way it is almost... playfully put forth, uncomfortable, if not downright alarming.

 

Also, I was a big fan of his elaborate sentences and descriptions (but then again, I'm rather fond of flowery language, so there you go). I suppose it's one of those books where you either love it or hate it, eh? It's a little too extreme to induce mediocre reactions. C:

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I'm sorry for the spoilers, Meg! I'm silly, but I'll definitely keep that in mind from now on. C:

Not silly at all! The ability to do "spoilers" was added some time after the board was set up, so there is no shortcut on the 'reply' page. New members can't know about it until they are told. :)

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I read this a few months ago and remember feeling extremely uncomfortable the whole way through. I almost liked the character of Humbert to start with and then was shocked at myself for doing so. The character of Lolita was a weird one - like people have already said it's ambiguous whether she's as worldly as she makes out, but the way she changes throughout the novel from a confident (or cocky?) little girl to an abused victim is the thing that's stayed with me the most. The fact that her hurt was coming through even in Humbert's deluded narrative made it even more poignant for me.

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It's worth reading through the novel a second time. That way, even just looking at the introduction, you'll see things that passed you by the first time.

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I think itmust be getting on for 20 years since I read this and it is still oneof the best novels I haveread. I've read other books by Nabakov and I must admit to being a huge fan.

Is this the bragging of an overall not really very pleasant girl trying to sound older than she really is, or a paedophile trying to justify his actions? We never find out.
Yes, I love the fact that we never know. It made me even more uncomfortable with the whole story. Brilliant.

 

The deliberately flowery language can sometimes make the book a bit of a chore to read - like Joseph Conrad, Nabakov was a non-native English speaker who sometimes seemed unable to resist showing off his mastery of the language, sometimes to his detriment - but it is for various reasons a milestone in literature.
I actually love Nabakov's use of language. It is one of the things that appeals. I keep meaning to try Conrad for the same reason.

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I think I was too young when I read this novel. I was about 14 when I "borrowed" my Dad's copy, which had been on the very top shelf of the book case my whole life (I'd also been told I wasn't allowed to read it). I remember thinking it wasn't as bad as I expected, but in hindsight I think I probably didn't fully understand a lot of what was happening.

 

Maybe a necessary reread will happen in a few years (hmmm? wanna put money on that anyone?!).

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...like Joseph Conrad, Nabakov was a non-native English speaker who sometimes seemed unable to resist showing off his mastery of the language.

 

Can I just correct you there and say that you are wrong? Nabokov was brought up in an anglophile household and spoke both Russian and English as his first languages. Although he wrote his first few novels in Russian, he could speak perfect English. French would have been his second language, although he was equally as adept at that.

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I almost liked the character of Humbert to start with and then was shocked at myself for doing so.

 

I found that too, actually, and the fact that Nabokov can... trick you into feeling sympathy (or even empathy) for this horrible man (who is, so ironically, what one could technically consider the protagonist of the piece) was really one of my favourite parts of the novel. I found it just brilliant how he manipulated the words and prayed on the reader's emotions.

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Can I just correct you there and say that you are wrong? Nabokov was brought up in an anglophile household and spoke both Russian and English as his first languages. Although he wrote his first few novels in Russian, he could speak perfect English. French would have been his second language, although he was equally as adept at that.

 

Pedant alert! Third, surely. If Russian and English were equal first, then they would have shared gold, and French would have had to be content with bronze.

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I think Lolita was one of the best books I have ever read. I can still remember reading the first page and being completely spellbound at the beautiful use of language (and I'm not really the type to say that).

 

To me there's no comparison with Conrad from a language point of view. I find Conrad's prose like wading through quicksand at times, which is something I definitely wouldn't say about Nabakov. It's very rare that I read a first page and know I'm embarking on something that's going to say with me a long time.

 

I felt uncomfortable too and it reminds me of how I feel when watching Tony Soprano. One minute I see myself in him, the next he makes me sick. It's a testament to how good the writing and character profiling is in both cases I think.

 

Rebecca

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Guest John Self

I agree with those who praise this book - and urge those who have it on their TBR pile to move it a little higher. It's surely one of the great achievements of 20th century literature.

 

However as others have also commented, it's not an easy ride, at least not immediately: I think I got halfway through and gave up before later reading it in full. Even then I only truly loved it when I re-read it a couple of years ago.

 

I think "flowery" is a little misleading in describing the language. It suggests it's full of purple prose and overdone detailed descriptions of the settings etc. It's more supple and witty than that suggests.

 

And Humbert Humbert does, I feel, become sympathetic to us by the end, even though we know the enormity of all that he has done. It's a tremendously clever and emotionally satisfying book and I don't think Nabokov ever wrote anything better. But then nor did almost anyone else.

 

I don't want to end up cut and pasting every review I've written from elsewhere, so my more detailed thoughts can be read here.

 

But just read the damn thing if you haven't, all right?

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Sometimes a book really stumps me. This is one such book. It's difficult to discuss, difficult to decipher, just plain difficult.

 

What exactly is Nabakov trying to get at with this book? According to the man himself - nothing. He is not telling a moral story, he is not writing a book about ideas, he simply writes his books so that he can get rid of them out of his mind. His purpose seems to be just to portray a certain reality of life, no matter what the subject. But oh! What a subject! Pedophilia/obsessive love.

 

The main character is not a pleasant one. I did not like him - not once during the book. Is that a requirement in reading? No - but this is a very distasteful man to say the least. He is a man incapable of viewing anything outside the sphere of his desire for young girls and in particular Lolita. Self-absorbed, self-centered - these words do not even begin to describe this man. But while it is about one pedophile's love for his victim, this is not a pornographic novel. Nabakov, with his words, does manage to somehow render this man's life readable because he makes the man's mind readable.

 

But is this realstic? No. I don't think it is. I don't think there is a pedophile in the word that thinks as this man does so basically, I think Nabokov cheats. This man is not real. Just because the writing is superb and in many ways connects the reader to a broader picture of life's general futility and humor does not mean that he's done the job. Because while the writing is great - the specifics of story and plot are atrocious.

 

 

I could not have been more bored as he sets off on his trip with Lolita. And I get the sense that because Nabakov knows that he couldn't just keep the reader tied up in this across country spree, he then settles down for a little while, even though it makes no sense that Humbert would do so. But even that is short lived as Humbert and Lolita take off across the country again. At which point I felt the story became almost unreadable. Does anyone really understand what happens in this section, when Lolita finally gets away from him and during which Humbert thinks he is being followed? It made no sense to me at all. Nor really did the rest of the book. He's obsessed with Lolita still , even though she is gone and we are treated to some strange missing years in which he cavorts with a useless character named Rita. He seems more obsessed with killing the person that took Lolita away from him. I have no idea why - again, this is not a believable characterisation at all.

 

And there really is no ambiguity in my mind about the position of Lolita in this. Could she have been a sexual precocious 11 year old - not a virgin by any means and perhaps playing the seductress role at times? Sure. Why not? But where in the world is the ambiguity in what type of life he subjects her to? He plainly says that each night when Lolita thinks Humbert is finally asleep that she begins to sob in bed. Again - this is just part of the cheat of Humbert's characterisation. He verbally says that he knows what he is doing is wrong and that he knows he ruined Lolita's life, but he has no emotional connection what-so-ever to her pain. And that's not real, because if you don't have such a level of understanding, then I don't believe he'd have any means of really knowing that what he did was wrong.

 

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Thanks!

 

I actually read Lolita back in June I think - I saved up some comments on Word documents because it had me in a tizzy for a while. I just had to share with BCO. :)

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I don't think there is a pedophile in the word that thinks as this man does so basically, I think Nabokov cheats. This man is not real. Just because the writing is superb and in many ways connects the reader to a broader picture of life's general futility and humor does not mean that he's done the job. Because while the writing is great - the specifics of story and plot are atrocious.

I have to work out how to repond to spoilers without spoiling! I should say first that this is one of my favourite books. I find it utterly horrifying and brilliant at the same time. Volvican, I think it might be a mistake to speculate about how pedophiles think as a group - I'm sure that as a group they are made up of as many individual types of consciousness as any other social group (what expression to use?!), with various justifications for what they do. But that aside, I'm not actually sure that Humbert is intended as a realistic character. Remember that the novel is written from the perspective of a man already imprisoned for murder. You have to read well beyond the uppermost layer of the text. I think, for instance, it's reasonably safe to assume that

he has killed Quilty after projecting his own guilt onto the other man, which suggests he is not as at ease with his justifications for seducing Lolita as he would like to make out. In fact, I think sometimes Quilty is read almost as Humbert's doppelganger.

I’m inclined to interpret the stategies you call ‘cheating’ more as narrative cleverness.

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I love this book! Witty, dark, repulsive, beautiful, upsetting...

Not to be dismissed as 'dirty'

 

Brilliant manipulation through words- even the subtitle 'Confessions of a white male widower' play on sympathy.

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