Friday, 5 February 2010


Title: Lolita

Author: Vladimir Nabokov

Number of pages: 309

Started: 31 January 2010

Finished: 6 February 2010

Opening words:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.

Read the opening chapters of the book here.

Plot summary:

Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged, fastidious college professor. He also likes little girls. And none more so than Lolita, who he’ll do anything to possess. Is he in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster? …Or is he all of these?

What I thought:

This was an interesting read and clearly one that is affected by the narrator telling the story. Humbert Humbert is the narrator and the protagonist with a liking for young girls. It’s a controversial story and one that some might feel rather uncomfortable with, not just because of the storyline itself, but because of the narrators explanations and, perhaps, because he might draw some emotion (about him as a person) other than abhorrence at times. It’s a challenging concept for a book and it starts with a foreword (that you should read before you read the rest of the book, as it is part of the plot) which gives a very strong indication of where things will end up. But the story takes some interesting paths to reach its conclusion and you see the ‘morality’ of Humbert and how the standards that he applies to other are not necessarily the same as he applies to himself.

Nabokov was a Russian, and this book, which was written in English, was an experiment in using the English language to its full extent – although he does throw in quite a lot of French too. The book at times seems to get caught up in using the most obscure words that can be found to convey the message, which does nit always enhance the book. But as a work of literature it is also a challenging read, but perfectly readable.

Did I enjoy the book? It is hard to say. I thought it was a clever story in its own way and one that was challenging on a number of levels, but I find it hard to be enthusiastic about a book that involves a subject of this nature.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't finish this book. "Uncomfortable" is too mild a word - I was very disturbed.... the writing's amazing, but, the story... uhhhhh.... the book did leave me speechless, and not in a good way!

Going to try reading it again though.

Random Reflections said...

anothercookiecrumbles - I can see why it would make you (more than) uncomfortable. I didn't think the book was particularly graphic/ explicit, but I think what was disturbing about it was Humbert's explanations and justifications of what he did. That certainly is disturbing.

Sarah said...

I read this some time ago, and admired the writing, although you need to be careful about the company in which you choose to express that admiration.

Good point about the Foreward. I read it last for some reason, and did feel that I would have got more out of the book if I had read the thing in a conventional order. I hope to read Lolita again one day, but the subject nature makes me feel uncomfortable about pursuing it at length.

Random Reflections said...

Sarah - it is a tricky book to express admiration for. It is such an emotive subject. I can see why you need to be careful when and where to express thoughts on it.

I read the Foreword about half way through the book, as I suddenly realised that it was part of the story. It did change things a bit by doing so.

I don't know if I would read it again. perhaps once was enough for me.