Book Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

In the history of literature, you would be hard pressed to come up with a character who is more full of himself than Humbert Humbert.  This is a man who believes all his actions justified and all his reasoning flawless.  A man who finds everyone around him faulty except for one; his Dolores, his Dee, his Lolita.  The words he uses to describe Lolita and his actions with her and his thoughts about her are absolutely beautiful and flowery and flowing.  Coming from the right man, they are words that would make women melt and Humbert Humbert will readily tell you he is the right man.  And he’s right.  They are gorgeous words and they flow effortlessly and effusively from his tongue to his object, Lolita.  Then you remember that Lolita is a 12 year old girl and you get the heebie-jeebies.  Nabokov must be greatly commended for pulling off that feat.  This is not a puerile or erotic book despite its subject manner.  You won’t find lurid descriptions of two people rutting, but you will find incredibly imaginative ways of Humbert Humbert telling you that he has an erection or that he came in his pants.  Seriously, there were parts where I had to reread because I was like, “Did he just describe what I think he described?” and the answer was always yes.  it takes a while, but you get used to it.

This is not an easy book to read, not just for its subject matter, which is disturbing, but also for the depth of its prose and the breadth of knowledge of its author.  The allusions and references are so obscure and the use of the French language so frequent that I was left wondering if maybe the joke was on the reader and the whole purpose of those passages was to make them think that Humbert Humbert was a man of the world when in reality he was mostly talking out his ass and just making this stuff up.  This belief was solidified by the fact that not only did I have to look a record number of words up, but many of the words were not found in the dictionary provided by my Kindle.  The artists and poets and philosophers he references are, indeed, real though, and there’s nothing I can find that says much of Humbert Humbert’s words were BS so I have to assume that it’s my poor dictionary and my lack of vocabulary that are to blame.  Do not worry too much about this if you decide to pick up the book.  I would have liked to be able to fluently read the French in the book, but the rest of the dense passages have enough context around them to maintain comprehension despite the feeling of ignorance you may feel.

I have a theory.  Everything that happens in “Lolita” is all in Humbert Humbert’s mind.  From the introduction by a psychiatrist, to his “affair” with Lolita, to his eventual unwinding and jailing.  The only truth may be his remembrance of his childhood and possibly his predilection for nymphets.  His story is a little too perfect, a little too full of coincidences to be real.  “Lolita’ is his imaginings of what he would have liked his life to be.  The psychologist’s foreword represents his need to feel important.  Lolita represents his repressed childhood romances.  His manic search for justice, the longings of an impotent man to make his mark on the world.  No, Humbert Humbert is sitting in a psych ward somewhere getting the help he needs but will not accept.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

    1. Jean-Paul Post author

      I’d highly recommend it. The middle can be a little rough to get through because it’s so thick with obscure references, but it’s worth it.

      Reply

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