“Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov (1955) – book review

Lo-lo-Lolita, eureka. Couldn’t believe it when got to the Tick That Box on this one. Must have picked it up and put it down half a dozen times in as many years. Dare I confess, it was borrowing and watching the James Mason / Shelley Winters DVD that got me there (thank you, KC!).  Made in 1962 and therefore as ancient as I am but no doubt withstanding the test of time better, the film enabled me to follow the action and come back to enjoy the prose far more easily.

It is hard to quell the unsettling, disturbing nature of this book, which has come to represent something so tangible even to those who haven’t read it. I don’t know how Nabokov manages it, undoubtedly because he does the unreliable narrator so well, but Humbert Humbert does come across as such an endearing chap, while our tricky heroine, nicknamed Dolores, is of course heralded somewhat the villainess of the piece, a veritable siren with her “heartless vapourless eyes”.

The young actress Sue Lyon in the Kubrick film plays the part to perfection (interesting that her age was raised from an ‘innocent’ 12 to a more sustainable adolescent 16 in the film, presumably to avoid additional controversy), although again I wonder why the black and white story feels the need to move so far from the printed word?

I would be keen to see the latterly Jeremy Irons’ rendition, which is said to stay closer to the original version – any news and views?

Fascinating that it was originally written in English and only translated back into Russian later by the author, for his mastery of the language is phenomenal, and it’s even more marvellous that thanks to Youtube we can see the man himself in action, discoursing the ideas behind this ‘curious and debased book’ on CBC tv (worth watching both 5 minute-long Parts I and II). So we’re invited to believe that it’s apparently more about the interweaving of characters etc etc than the scurrilous side of things, eh (?!), although loved the moment when he confesses to having put the word ‘nymphet’ on the map! A must read within the grand scheme of things, and am glad to have tucked it under my belt, although am sure I would not have been so favourable if I’d read it at an earlier age – but who can know for sure ?

Read in 2013.

Rating : 10/10

Images taken from here and here.
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4 Responses to “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov (1955) – book review

  1. Megan says:

    I couldn’t believe it when I got this post. We are on the same reading wavelength …. Lolita is languishing, 3/4 read at the bottom of my bedside pile. I love the language but can’t get through it for some reason. Your review will make me dig it out and finish it, so thank you. I read “The End of Alice” by AM Homes earlier this year. Interesting inversion of the Lolita – what’s it called – “trope”? But whatever it is, I found the Homes book much more disturbing….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just think of the jubilation of getting to that last page! I think the 10/10 was 5 points for admiration, 5 points for finishing it – the language really is so brilliant but there was a whole great deal of joy in getting to the end and am not sure I would readily return for a second reading, unlike other tough reads. Very nice to think we are on the same wavelength though – and over the moon with your TEOA recommendation. It has gone straight onto the Wish List. I LOVED “May We Be Forgiven” and also have “Jack” on the shelves, but must read this inversion of Lolita Trope. Thank you!! Nx

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