Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Book 60: Finished.

Before you read any further, I should point out that this post was originally written when I finished the book during the read-a-thon (yes, a long long time ago). It has been sitting in draft form waiting to be posted. Here it finally is. :)

"The days of my youth, as I look back on them, seem to fly away from me in a flurry of pale repetitive scraps like those morning snow storms of used tissue paper that a train passenger sees whirling in the wake of the observation car," (15).

I think I am in love with Vladimir Nabokov. I am still trying to wrap my head around the novel I just finished and understand the strong emotional reaction I had to it.

I know that when I explain this novel and say what it was about, some might say, "Why would you even read THAT?" But there is a reason why this novel is so highly regarded. It is a beautiful piece of fiction, even if it about a middle-aged man and his obsession and love for the young Lolita.

I'm really not quite sure where to begin. I mean, there is a man, Humbert Humbert, who has this fascination with young girls, who he calls nymphets. He watches them, and judges them on the beauty of their slender legs, their youthful faces, and prepubescent bodies. It is slightly creepy but fascinating at the same time as we watch him search for a girl to molest, to be with.

He moves in with Lolita's mother as a lodger. He falls hard for the beauty and youth of little Lolita, and is saddened when she goes away to summer camp. Her mother gives him a choice: marry her or leave. Her determines to marry her solely to remain close to his Lolita. Obviously, it comes to a crisis when she realizes his affections for her young daughter.

Fortunately for him, tragedy strikes and he is allowed to remain close to Lolita.

It is certainly an odd book to say you love, wandering through his dirty mind and his fascination with a girl that should be so childlike. But the Lolita we see is not. She knows far more about sex and manipulation than you would want in a girl her age. She teases him, manipulates him, and uses him as much as he uses her. In a way, they fit together well.

But the real beauty and strength of this book is the writing. Nabokov has a gift for stringing together language in a way that makes your heart ache. It is through this gift for storytelling that we begin to understand Humbert Humbert and his Lolita. We see them as real people, with faults and disturbing tendencies, but they aren't just shells of a reality. They come alive, and could be anyone.

I marked so many passages that my husband has been making fun of me. There are so many to choose from, so many beautiful lines that I want to keep forever. Here a few of my other favorite passages. See how Nabokov winds so many comparisons and descriptions to make the scene alive.

"Then she crept into my waiting arms, radiant, relaxed, caressing me with her tender, mysterious, impure, indifferent, twilight eyes-for all the world, like the cheapest of cheap cuties. For that is what nymphets imitate-while we moan and die," (120).

"At the hotel we had separate rooms, but in the middle of the night she came sobbing into mine, and we made it up very gently. You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go," (142).

"There was no shock, no surprise. Quietly the fusion took place, and everything fell into order, into the pattern of branches that I have woven throughout this memoir with the express purpose of having the ripe fruit fall at the right moment; yes, with the express and perverse purpose of rendering-she was talking but I sat melting in my golden peace-of rendering that golden and monstrous peace through the satisfaction of logical recognition, which my most inimical reader should experience now," (272).

I am kind of sad to be putting this one away. I kind of want to soak into it even more and absorb more of the language that Nabokov so mastered. I am certainly looking forward to Pnin and if I had a copy on my shelf, it would be in my hands next.

For those of you who have read Lolita, what did you make of it?


  1. I felt the exact same way. There is always a tinge of weirdness when we say we love a book about a pedophile. It's really Nabokov's writing that shoots this one into the stratosphere. I also read Pnin after I read Lolita, and I enjoyed it. It doesn't have the same gut-wrenching power, but it is smart and incredibly well-written nonetheless.

  2. I feel I could anaylise the character of Lolita all day. We never really see her unless its through Humberts eyes so I am not convinced that the Lolita we saw was in fact the real Lolita. Large parts of the story if twisted around and carefully looked at indicated to me an alternative view. I Loved it and I am sure I will re-read this one day.

  3. I loved it as well, one of the best of the year so far. It is, very simply, beautiful. I also find myself trying to justify why I liked it so much to other people. I listen to it read by Jeremy Irons, which was also a plus.

  4. I agree with Jessica that I'm not sure all that sexual precociousness in Lolita was actually truth, but then again, I went to a middle school where 12 year olds were getting pregnant, quite frequently, so I do know it DOES happen. Kids know more than we give them credit for. Mostly I just wonder about HH's interpretation of Lolita's actions and words, especially when we see her later on, closer to adulthood.

    My favorite part of this novel, from what I remember from 10 years ago, was how Nabokov uses the narrative to turn us on the narrator halfway through the book. The mid-novel climax is so anticlimactic, it's like he slaps you in the face for ever being interested in HH in the first place. Suddenly you start seeing HH for who he really is, and HH loses his narrative thread. He loses the reader. It's brilliant genius of Nabokov. He employed the technique quite often. It was very striking in The Eye as well.

  5. I have to admit, I'm intrigued and want to read this.

  6. I loved this book. I went into it thinking that I was going to be so disgusted by Humbert, but in the end this was not so. I found him a much more sympathetic character than Lolita-- she just made me so angry and really turned out to be the villain, if you will, of the novel for me. The end just made me hate her! It really was a great feat of writing for an author to be able to make a reader really feel sorry for a creepy old dude.

  7. I just finished this one today actually. The writing is super gorgeous. Enjoyed it a lot!

  8. This is one of my favorite novels ever. I think the language is beautiful. I wrote about this book in my master's exam.

  9. I'm glad you liked it! It was amazing how sympathetic I felt towards Humbert. I knew he was an unreliable narrator, & I didn't care. Funnily enough, I, too, was in love with Nabokov after finishing the book.

    I read this not too long ago, if you want to check it out:

  10. I read this last year and was a bit worried going into it. It's a strange premise. But I so agree with you. It was just beautifully written. Rich, complicated characters, mesmorizing, lyrical prose, I will definitely read more from Nabokov.

  11. Despite the fact that I shudder at the thought and I cannot stand reading about rape of any kind, I loved Nabaokov's writing in his short stories that I read so I really need to give his novels a try. (PALE FIRE, I read, but it did nothing for me, really).

  12. Great review - I added it to my TBR list immediately! I linked this over at Kate's Library as part of my Friday Five.

    Have a great weekend.

  13. I don't think the way Humbert presents Lolita is the way Lolita actually was...I considered him a very unreliable narrator.

    But I LOVE Nabokov, because his writing is just so rich and perfect. :) I have the audio version of Lolita, and it's incredible: I really get to savour his language that way.

  14. I think it's just such a testament to Nabokov's skill as a writer that there are people who argue that a twelve-year-old girl was the sexual aggressor in this book. The writing's gorgeous. I love this book to pieces, even though I can't read it very often. And that quote about "we made it up very gently" is one of the most chilling lines I've ever read in a book.