Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita was the second book selected by my public library for their book club’s Banned Books Series. I have to admit I had no idea what this book was about when I started reading it. I had read that it’s one of the world’s “most beautiful love stories.” And I knew it was a bit illicit because of Reading Lolita in Tehran (another book I still have to read). But I had no idea it was about a pedophile who essentially kidnaps his stepdaughter and keeps her under his thumb until she’s old enough and smart enough to figure out how to escape.

As I began reading this book I fully understood why some people had asked that this book be banned. After all, it kind of reads like a how-to book on pedophilia. But when the subject came up at book club, I found myself defending the book, saying that if someone read this book and thought it condoned their own behavior or it “inspired” them to do something of this sort, well they were likely to have done it anyway. I said this because I saw the reactions of the others who had read this book and all of us, whether we thought the writing was beautiful or the story interesting, were disgusted with the main character and judged him accordingly. This book isn’t going to turn anybody into a pedophile who doesn’t already entertain such thoughts.

The book itself is beautifully written. In the first part when Humbert Humbert is falling in love with Lolita, I was quite taken by his descriptions of her … until I remembered that he was talking about a 12-year-old girl. I also really enjoyed the French phrases sprinkled throughout the book. I felt like each one was a little French quiz for me, especially because he offers no translation like many books do today. His descriptions of living in France and going to the Mediterranean made me think of my own time there, which is always a fun thing.

Aside from all of that though the book is really interesting and it raises a lot of questions about love and family. It also shows the inner workings (albeit fictional) of a truly deranged person and how one is able to justify what he is doing despite all evidence that it is wrong. I also thought it was quite interesting – and fitting – that Humbert Humbert often befriended other sexual deviants. I think that is probably true of that type of person in the real world.

This book drags a little in the middle and it was not an easy book to read because there are many historical and literary references throughout the text, along with the aforementioned untranslated French phrases (some Latin and German as well), so I highly recommend getting the annotated version. I didn’t know there was an annotated version until I went to the book club meeting and now I feel like I need to read it all over again so I can get the inside jokes that some of the others understood better than I did.

Published in: on July 23, 2008 at 5:26 pm  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I had never thought about reading an annotated version. If I re-read this someday, I’ll go that route, too. Maybe I’ll like it better. 🙂Lezlie

  2. Lezlie: Yeah, apparently there are tons of allusions to other works that have similar themes. I had heard of the works and the authors he was talking about, but having never read them I didn’t understand what they had to do with the book. I think it would definitely make the book more reader friendly (maybe in 1955 people knew more about this stuff than we do???).

  3. I never thought about reading an annotated version either. I’ll have to keep that in mind for future books. I’ve only read about a fourth of the book. I discovered that while I think Nabokov is a talented writer, I just did not like the story and decided to move on. But I agree that it shouldn’t be banned and that you are right, it would only be someone with those tendencies and thoughts already there to be influenced by the book.

  4. I’m glad you mentioned annotated books – who knew?! I’ll definitely go that route if I ever decide to read this one.And YEAH for you for defending the book despite not loving it!

  5. Yes, thanks for mentioning annotated books. I don’t know any French, so I’d need that. I do realize I need to read this, but, to be honest, I’m not eager to.I guess my wonder is what kind of person *writes* books like that. Is the author a bit deranged? How else would he know the deranged mind of a pedophile? Just a thought…..

  6. Rebecca Reid: A lot of people at the book club meeting were wondering the same thing. I’m sure Nabokov was asked this a lot during his lifetime as well. He said he got his inspiration from his study of butterflies. Here he was studying these beautiful creatures that he loved, but then he would kill them and mount them to posterboard in order to fully document them and understand them. He said that is how he pictured Humbert Humbert – a person who loved something dearly but somehow couldn’t stop himself from harming it in the process of capturing it.Still weird, but a little more forgiving I suppose.

  7. This is a perfect review. You stated what the book is about, and how I felt about it, perfectly. I read this last year and was simultaneously moved by the well-written prose and revolted by the creep that the narrator was. (Also, some of my revulsion might’ve been the stomach flu I had when I was finishing the book, lol.) I was digusted by Humbert Humbert, but also felt sorry for him because he was just so darn pathetic. I liked the French bits too. I love untranslated foreign langugages in books- stuff like that is what really got me fascinated in languages in the first place, and I went on to study years and years of several different languages. 🙂

  8. Stephanie: You sound like my book soul mate! I love untranslated languages in books even if they’re languages I don’t speak (the Polish in Water For Elephants is a perfect example). I’m lucky on the French front, considering it was major in college and I’ve lived in France twice now. But I there are so many other languages to learn! I’m starting on German next month 🙂

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