Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov and Classics Challenge Completed!

Title: Lolita
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Date Finished: Dec 23, 2008 #71
Published: 1955 Pages: 309
Rating: 4/5

What to say about a book that so many people have talked about or have predisposed notions about? I went into this book with partial trepidation and partial anticipation and ended up being both amazed and revolted--first by the writing and second by the subject matter. Pretty much just as I expected.

Lolita is the story of Humbert Humbert, as told from his perspective, and his passionate love affair with the twelve-year-old Lolita. Humbert, always trying to recreate a childhood relationship, is obsessed with nymphets, and when he first meets Lolita, he falls immediately in love with her. The first sentences has been repeated and repeated, but I'll repeat it again here: "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 tape, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta." There are so many derogatory things that can be said about Humbert--and it is true that he is a pedophile, rapist, conniving and manipulative man, but there is also something so sad and heartbreaking about his delusions.

This is the type of book that I wish I had read in grad school so that I would have secondary sources and discussion in order to grasp a better understanding of all the intricacies. There is so much social commentary that Nabokov presents to his reader that I can only graze the surface. Not only is the relationship between Humbert and Lolita perverted (both because of the monster that Humbert is and because of the way that Lolita reacts to him), but society itself is heavily criticized. The hotels Humbert and Lolita stay at, the activities and schools that Lolita is involved in, the people they know, the towns they visit--everything is grotesque. Even though Nabokov's words and descriptions are beautiful, I had the feeling that nothing he discusssed was beautiful.

Since I've been reading this book for two weeks on and off, Laura asked me a few times how I was liking the book and I never knew quite how to answer. It wasn't easy reading, partly because of the richness in language, but also because at times I was reading the types of descriptions that would turn my stomach. I often wondered how this book would have been received if a less crafty author had written this story. Would it be discarded as pornography? (hopefully this post doesn't send my keyword searches to the gutter!). But the writing. The writing is the type of writing that keeps me in search of the next book that I can drown in. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I note that every single word is so carefully thought out and well placed. Although it is heavy, it is some of the most delicious writing I have encountered (this whole experience is a big paradox...beautiful/delicious writing about such a dark and horrid subject).

This book is bigger than I am. There are so many things to talk about, and I can't do this book justice. I can see this book as being the type where you can look past the subject matter and get to the meat or not be able to get past the subject. Or get tied up in all of the erudite language and get lost or bored or become entranced with the writing. I don't believe this book is for everyone, and I'm not even sure it was for me, but I do know that is one that I could see myself revisiting years down the road or even seeking out other works of Nabokov. I think this is just one of those anomalies.

They read it too:
Melody; Bellezza; Nymeth; Book Chronicle; Rhinoa; Chris; Ramya
(If I missed yours--as my google reader went crazy when I typed in "Lolita" let me know. But please be patient if I don't get it linked right away as I'll be away from the computer for a few days).


On to another and lighter topic--this was my last pick for the Classics Challenge, so I am finished!! Yay!!

Emma (favorite)
My Antonia
Death of a Salesman
The Swiss Family Robinson (least favorite)
Bonus: Neverwhere

FINALLY: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!! I've been absent, I know. And I have over 300 posts in my reader...most of which will be marked "read." :(

I'm leaving town for the rest of the week to spend the holidays with my husband's family, and I won't have access to a computer. I know things will slow down again after the new year, and I can't wait!!! Best wishes to you all!


Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas and congratulations on finishing the challenge.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I loved your review. I didn't quite make it through Lolita. I got bored with it, but I did keep it around to tray and read it another time. Enjoy your time with your family!

Amanda said...

Lolita is one of my favorite books of all time. I'm sure I only grazed the surface in reading it. It's been nearly eight years...I should read it again soon. See how much my perspective has changed.

Amanda said...

Oh! btw, I signed up for goodreads and saw you were on there. I think I send a friend request or whatever it's called on goodreads. :)

Have fun on vacation, and Merry Christmas!

Corinne said...

You know, I REALLY appreciated this review. I've never read it, I probably never will, but your review was very thoughtful. You always do a great job :) I hope you have a great holiday and nice job finishing up the challenge :)

Laura said...

You always do such a great job at conveying your thoughts in your reviews! I don't really have much of a desire to read this book, but I'm glad you were able to see the beauty of the writing!

I hope you have a great Christmas and a good time with the in-laws. Pet some sheep for me! :)

Literary Feline said...

Thank you for your great review, Trish. I am on the fence about reading this one for the very reasons you mention in your review. I've heard the writing is beautiful but the subject matter itself makes me cringe. I probably will read it eventually, but it will take a lot of mental preparation to do so.

Congratulations on finishing the challenge!

Laura H said...

My boss (a English major) just finished this book the other day and gave me the low down on it. I can honestly say I was sick to my stomach the rest of the day. Call me a wimp but this will NEVER be on my TBR list!!!!!

Ana S. said...

I think you put it perfectly here: "Even though Nabokov's words and descriptions are beautiful, I had the feeling that nothing he discusssed was beautiful." He writes about ugly things, and yet the book itself is a thing of such beauty. I think it takes a huge amount of talent to achieve that.

Happy Holidays to you, Trish! Have a great time, and don't be afraid to use that "mark all as read" button when you come back. That's what it's there for :P

maggie moran said...

I enjoyed the book. I like the travel aspect, but I remember I had an obligation to slant my booktalk in a negative light. The PR department was not going to print it and asked me to either rewrite or talk about another book.

I opened with, "He is a pervert, this E. Humbert Humbert from mysterious places in Europe. The deviant lurks in a handsome face capable of playing the leading man. The voice charms unassuming Americans within listening distance of his romantic French phrases. What knowledge can be gleaned from his fa├žade? How can anyone close enough to smell his cologne realize it masks his spoil?"

My boss stepped in and said no! The article runs as written. The PR department wanted to know why I was promoting a book about such subject, and she shot back that the students were reading the book as a club. I was so thankful she had my back! :)

Rebecca Reid said...

I recently read Nabokov's short stories. They were so beautifully written! I completely understand what you mean when you say his subjects aren't beautiful but the writing makes it so.

Tasha said...

Nice review. I agree with you, Nabokov's writing is excellent.

Anonymous said...

a Very Merry Christmas!
I hope you have fun :)
I have read so many reviews about this one :) I knew the basic story-line..and Yes I agree..sometime the richness in the writing wants you to just hang in there :)
The covr pic is b'ful..and someday I will read this book too :)

U will get some hits from people for your "porno-graphy" of yours!

Congratulations on completing the challengE!

The Bookworm said...

Excellent review!
I like how you say 'This book is bigger than I am. There are so many things to talk about, and I can't do this book justice.'
I know what you mean, its always great when a book is that good.

I've heard of this book before, but dont know if I'd be able to get past the subject matter in order to enjoy the writing.

Happy Holidays ;)

Melody said...

I agree this isn't an easy read, but the writing is beautiful! You've written a great review, Trish! I'm looking forward to reading his other books in the near future.

Happy Holidays! :)

samantha.1020 said...

I've got this one on my TBR challenge list for next year. I've been meaning to read it for awhile now.

Cipriano said...

It's a positively incredible book.
One of my favorites of all time!
-- Cipper --

Bellezza said...

I've been absent as well, but I'm still thinking about you! I feel the same way that you wrote about this book "It's bigger than I am" sort of thing. I felt funny listing a story involving a pedolphile (in its basest terms) as one of my top ten reads for 2008, but there it is. The book is so multifaced, so intriguing, I'll have to reread it at some time in my life to grasp more of what he was saying. Happy New Year, Trish. I'm off to mark my Google Reader as 'Read" also. ;)

Unknown said...

I confess that I made it only halfway through Lolita, but I was very impressed by the writing. As I recall even the list of students in Lolita's class was interesting.

Happy new year.

Darlene said...

Great review Trish. I have wanted to pick this book up so many times and read it yet never have. I know the subject matter is difficult and I've not heard of anyone who hasn't been affected by this book that has read it. I think I'll make it one of my library selections this year.

Congrats on finishing the Classics Challenge. Sadly I didn't. I will be doing up that post this weekend I hope. Hopefully if you host it this year I will do much better.

Lisa said...

Yep, definitely this is on my list for 2009!

I haven't been paying attention, are you doing the classics challenge again?

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

If anyone is still subscribed to the comments, I apologize for not responding sooner. It finally got to the point where I was a little overwhelmed and started procrastinating. :P Anyway...I'll respond to you all at once. :)

Lolita is a curious book, as I mentioned in the review. The sexual matter, while never explicit, is difficult to get past. Humbert describes what he loves about Lolita's body in great detail, and it was incredibly icky. If the writing wasn't so gorgeous, I would have tossed the book as smut.

All that said, it did make my 10 top cut for 2008.

Maggie--great opener! Glad you had some support.

Dar and Lisa--I will be hosting the classics challenge again--most likely mid-year. Maybe April?

TheBlackSheep said...

I read Lolita ages ago and found it interesting then. I wonder what my reaction would be reading it today. I think I'm going to have to put it on my To Read list for this year. Like you said though, if it weren't so well written, it would be smut. Some people might even consider it well written smut, but I think that Nabokov was trying to build a rapport with Humbert to show the human side of the monster. He wasn't just producing smut in the name of art. As you said, the words are so carefully placed, that it's impossible to believe he just banged it out to shock people. It's a care he didn't seem to take with the other books of his I read, so he was most likely really was making the effort to open the subject without becoming so revolting that it wasn't readable.

Anyway, interesting book and I may have another read of it. Thanks for the review!