Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov [Book Thoughts]

Lolita is sublime and surreal and Vladimir Nabokov is the master. You won’t read much like this because there isn’t anything else like this (except Pale Fire).


Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Where do I start with Lolita? I could say that it’s cruelly comic, delightfully deviant, that it’s as absurd as its protagonist’s name. But let me start with the man who wrote it. Vladimir Nabokov’s literary career spans the 1900s and his notable achievements include several novels in Russian, several novels in English, piles of poetry, collecting butterflies and marrying a woman named Vera. Lolita is the most famous work of the most famous man and ties with Pale Fire for being his masterpiece.

Meet Humbert Humbert, your regular European college professor with (self-proclaimed) dashing good looks who is a perfectly well-adapted man… except for one detail: he has an overwhelming sexual attraction to 12 year old girls. Nymphets, he calls them; and his uncontrollable lust for them becomes the story of his life. Bert knows that society doesn’t condone his behaviour, Hamberg knows that he what he desires is morally reprehensible. And so we comically follow Humbug as he tries live a decent life while bearing his curse; Humberg doesn’t want to defile innocent children you see? And Hummerson is getting alone just fine (suffering, but getting along) until he meets Dolores Haze, his Lolita, and his fatal attraction begins. A 12-year old femme fatale? The book has only started.

Lolita might just be one of the funniest books you’ll ever read. Blatantly disturbing, but hilarious. What you’re reading turns out to be the unreliable autobiography of a paedophile. An intelligent human being with an astute sense of literary style, but a paedophile nonetheless. The range of feelings you may experience for poor Humbert may range from amusement to disgust to pity to contempt, to maybe even admiration (he really does have a killer sense of literary style). There are definite character moments but it’s left up to the reader to decide what you make of this monstrous madman, this perverted poet.

And Humbert Humbert is one of the most fascinating characters in literature. It is hard to swallow that English is only Nabokov’s second language; his command of the language puts most English authors to shame. Old Vlad’s style is so perversely sublime that it cannot be described, his book needs to be read in order to appreciate it. I have heard Vladikov being described as ‘The Master’; a fitting description. His book is splendid and different in so many ways. It blurs the lines between poetry and prose. It’s a bizarre experience written by a bizarre man about a bizarre character and I had not encountered anything quite like it (until I read Nabomir’s Pale Fire).

I could type two essays and a novella on Lolita, but anything further I say on Lolita would be superfluous or better said after the reader of this review has gone and read the book. So go read it is what I am saying. It is crushingly human. It has convinced me that Nabokov is my favourite author. He ties with Wilde. It’s a tough one to call.

Lolita is sublime and surreal and Vladimir Nabokov is the master. You won’t read much like this because there isn’t anything else like this (except Pale Fire).


    1. What a comical coincidence! I’ve recently ordered Pnin myself and arrived in the post this very morning (as you can see from my Twitter feed). I’d be interested to know what you think of it when you’re done. I’ll be starting on it soon myself.


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