Has anyone actually read Lolita?

(48 Posts)
Kirk1 Tue 12-Mar-13 10:14:15

Just that. We all know its a book about a dirty old man having an inappropriate relationship with a young teen girl, I was wondering if anyone has read it and can give an informed opinion.

I think in general people assume it's a book where she enjoys and asks for it, and/or makes apologies for his actions (Thinking of the phrase from it that I heard from the film with Jeremy Irons) Would you think less of me for having a curiosity about it and wanting to read the book for myself?

BobbiFleckmann Tue 12-Mar-13 10:19:27

why on earth would anyone think less of you for wanting to read it? it's superb, a masterpiece of modern writing. Read it and love it for the work of literature that it is and not for the person that Humbert is.

auntierozzi Tue 12-Mar-13 10:19:36

I read 2 thirds of it when I was about 17 and found it too creepy then. I suppose you just have to be in the right mood.....I'm not going to bother though, I prefer a good Ian Rankin myself ;-) can't wait to read his latest.

DuchessofMalfi Tue 12-Mar-13 10:20:31

Of course you should read it if you want to. I wouldn't think any less of you for reading it/wanting to read it. It's the only way we can have an informed opinion of the novel, isn't it? It's probably going onto my extensive tbr list too. It's deemed a modern classic, so there must be more to it.

CryptoFascist Tue 12-Mar-13 10:21:15

Yes I have read it, and you should if you want to! Whyever not? It's a fantastic piece of writing.

GooseyLoosey Tue 12-Mar-13 10:21:30

Yes and it is sad rather than salacious. Humber is not portrayed as a dirty old man at all and that is what makes the book interesting.

IThinkOfHappyWhenIThinkOfYou Tue 12-Mar-13 10:21:53

I've read it but I haven't seen the film.

It's written in the 1st person so there is a justification after the fact of 'she was asking for it'. He says something along the lines of him not even being her first. I think she is pre teen, she is certainly pre pubescent. You know he knows he is doing something wrong by the way he is contriving to get in a situation where he can have sex with her. I can't remember the details but I think there was stuff about waiting for her to fall asleep or even drugging her. But all the way through he twists her normal behaviour into serious, earnest flirting.

HumphreyCobbler Tue 12-Mar-13 10:22:20

it is so brilliantly written

English wasn't even his first language, I find that amazing.

Have not read it since I was a parent though, I wonder if I would be able to just see the artistry of it in the same way? I was thinking about The Girl in The Swing the other day too, there is a book one couldn't see in the same light after having children.

mummytime Tue 12-Mar-13 10:23:40

Yes. It is a very very disturbing book, it really gets you in the mind of a paedophiles.

No she doesn't ask for it, she is groomed, as is her mother. He thinks she asks for it as "she stirs" certain feelings in him, pretty much as if I decided I was justified in groping Brad Pitt because he looks (looked) good.

I would only recommend reading it if you are in a good place.

Minty82 Tue 12-Mar-13 10:30:34

Yes - in that I've read it and it's a wonderful book, not that I would think less of you for reading it! It's written from his point of view, so manipulates the reader into almost believing that perspective. It's not a defence of paedophilia at all; just a demonstration of how great literature can draw you so utterly into its world that you almost don't realise the horror of what you're accepting.

christinarossetti Tue 12-Mar-13 10:39:56

I read it some 20 years ago when I was in a Nabokov period and I agree with those who say that it's a stunning work of literature. I read it in the context of his other books, so that gave me a particular perspective on it, I guess.

I was very hesitant about reading it because I thought it was 'about paedophilia' and surprised myself by loving it. I may respond differently now, and indeed when life gives me a chance, it's a book that I really want to read again.

Have never wanted to see the film though.

crispsarenotoneofyour5aday Tue 12-Mar-13 10:44:06

We read it at our work book club and I have to say when it was suggested I thought it was as you described. That could not be further from the truth. I found it a very uncomfortable read but beautifully written. I found the way Humbert Humbert recognises that his obsession is wrong but continues anyway infuriating. When Lolita is left but no one but him to rely on he takes complete advantage of her and when he admits that he knows she cries every night while he pretends to sleep it is heart-breaking. He is unconcerned with her feelings - just focussing on his own. I would definitely recommend it - pushed me way out of my comfort zone. Oh - and I would never think any less of anyone for wishing to find out about a book by reading it themselves rather than relying on others/a film view of it!

I assumed that eveyone had read it!!! I've read it twice at least.

It is really worth reading, brilliant.

Samu2 Tue 12-Mar-13 11:02:36

Yes. My husband read it last year too.

Kirk1 Tue 12-Mar-13 11:07:19

My DD is 12, and I was abused at age 11 so I was worried it may be more than I can cope with. DH keeps telling me I shouldn't read things that make me angry. I think I will read it, it's on my Kindle so I may as well!

Lancelottie Tue 12-Mar-13 11:22:47

I first read it as a child myself (wrong time to do so -- don't recommend it at that age) and remember his self-justification along the lines of 'In the end, it was she who seduced me.' Does he recognise that he's wrong, Crisps? I obviously found that aspect less memorable.

It's a haunting book.

Lancelottie Tue 12-Mar-13 11:27:21

Good grief. I've just googled it and though I was wrong about the start of the phrase, 'it was she who seduced me' is spot on. Clearly it was disturbing and wrong enough to stand out from the rest of the book for all those years.

mummytime Tue 12-Mar-13 13:45:27

Kirk1 in your circumstances I would be very careful. If it makes you uncomfortable put it down, and have something good to fill your thoughts with afterwards.

MamaMary Tue 12-Mar-13 13:54:04

It's creepy, disgusting and not that well written. I felt grubby after reading it and wished I hadn't read it. It's the opposite of uplifting.

I then made the mistake of reading other work by the same author which was pornographic. The man's a perv.

It's a great book imo. It is written in the first person, and the narrator believes that Lolita has seduced him. However there are plenty of clues throughout that this is not really the case, and that Humbert is deluded.

It is more disturbing that the film imo because in the book Lolita is younger than she appears in the film.

Given your personal history I'm not sure whether you should read it or not.

Minty82 Tue 12-Mar-13 14:18:04

'Not that well written'?!!! I went and found my copy to pick out a passage to counter that statement but couldn't choose one - every page is lyrical, thought-provoking and operating on multiple levels. Yes, it's deeply disturbing - it would be worrying if a novel dealing with that subject wasn't. But you might as well say that you don't recommend Madame Bovary because cheating on your husband isn't very nice. It's utterly beside the point.

Samu2 Tue 12-Mar-13 14:36:18

Not that well written? huh? hmm

NellyBluth Tue 12-Mar-13 14:50:48

It is an incredible book, very well written, gripping in its own way, and one of the most fascinating of the 'unreliable narrator' novels. Yes, it is disturbing, but of course given the date it was published, it isn't remotely graphic. I can't imagine anyone would think badly of someone who had read it. But given your personal history I would read it carefully, and stop if anything makes you feel uncomfortable.

crispsarenotoneofyour5aday Tue 12-Mar-13 14:50:54

Hi Lancelottie - my take on it was that from the very beginning of the book he alludes to the fact that he knows that he is wrong and it is the very fact that he justifies it to himself is what makes it all so sordid. He talks about her being "miserably unattainable" and also blames his genes for the way he feels about young girls. Am I right in remembering that the "she seduced me" line is when he is defending himslef to the jury? Always interesting to see others' views on books - two people can have such different takes on things. Another one we did was "In Cold Blood" - again, not something I would have ever read left to my own devices but has us talking in the corridors for weeks!

drjohnsonscat Tue 12-Mar-13 14:57:42

I found it pretty horrible. I don't buy it as a portrayal of sadness - author gets quite a bit out of his portrayal of lolita as has popular culture ever since. "Oooh look sexualised child - but it's literature so legitimate, goodie!"

sleepyhead Tue 12-Mar-13 15:01:44

Nobody who has read it could think she was "asking for it". It's utterly transparent (imo) that HH is deluding himself. I think the fact it's told from his point of view makes her complete lack of culpability even more obvious.

JudithOfThePeace Tue 12-Mar-13 15:02:59

As you can see from the discussion on this page, it is the sort of the book that encourages debate and divides opinion. I do think it is well-written, disturbing and thought-provoking. I read it many years ago and I suspect if I read it now - ten years older and with a daughter of my own - I would view it differently.

But the only way you can fully join in the debate is to read it yourself. So, to answer your initial question, don't be ashamed of wanting to read a controversial book in order to form your own opinion.

However,given your personal history, this may not be a literary debate you should try to be part of. Only you can know that, so take care.

ZZZenAgain Tue 12-Mar-13 15:03:05

I started it but I really didn't feel like finishing it. Not a book I enjoyed and I didn't complete it.

sleepyhead Tue 12-Mar-13 15:03:30

drjohnsonscat - I think that says more about popular culture and our readiness to sexualise children than it does about Nabakov.

There's plenty Humbert Humbert in the Daily Mail for example.

drjohnsonscat Tue 12-Mar-13 15:10:17

That's probably true sleepyhead but I felt the seeds of it were there in the original. He seemed to me to enjoy his portrayal. And I'm not just talking about idiot popular culture here either - the various films that have been made by various self-important film directors doubtless felt they were doing the book justice but surprise, surprise, there ends up being a lot of lascivious filming of a young girl - you can virtually hear the tills ring as they realise they've got "literature" with "legitimate girly stuff" at the same time.

SpringHare Tue 12-Mar-13 15:14:22

I think it's an amazing piece of writing. The popular culture idea of a 'Lolita' is very far from what Nabokov says about Lolita as a character, and that popular image does the book a great disservice. It's very obvious that the idea of the 'nymphet' is a twisted product of Humbert's mind, not a category to which any real female child belongs. The book is an exploration of the way a warped and self-excusing inner narrative results in devastating damage to other people's real lives. I can't construe it as victim-blaming (which I think the popular idea of Lolita is).

I think there will always be a problem with adapting it for film, because there's no real way of putting that subjective filter into a photographic medium. It is never OK to film a young girl to suggest the way Humbert sees her (though it does happen all too often). That's why it's a good novel, but not something which translates into images.

I imagine it might be a very difficult read for you, OP, given your experience. It imvolves being totally immersed in the thought processes of a paedophile whose cultured existence means he can use words to weave all kinds of ideas around something which the reader can clearly see is utterly wrong. If you want to read it, there's no reason why you shouldn't, but proceed with caution.

I read Lolita some 20 yrs ago, and I think it is a great novel. Nabokov is a sublime writer, one of the best of the XX century.

And I have never wanted to see the movie too.

Kirk1 Tue 12-Mar-13 16:12:26

Well, I have started on it. The language is sublime, that opening is poetic to the point you can forget the subject matter. His description of the "nymphets" is obviously describing his type (disturbingly DD is at that stage and she's stick-thin and has that confident air he seems to find so alluring. I can see his attraction to them) * mental note, reinforce DDs anti-perv defenses *

That line, the "she seduced me" that's the line from the Irons version of the film that was played endlessly while they were still shouting about it. I'm hearing Humbert as Jeremy Irons. I'm not sure if that's good or bad...

mixedmamameansbusiness Tue 12-Mar-13 16:20:46

We read Pnin by Nabakov at book club and I really didn't like it and so didn't bother with Lolita as some members did. However recently I have been trawling the top 50 books of all time and it has come up so I may try.

BigJamTart Tue 12-Mar-13 16:22:59

It is a fantastic book. Very well written and darkly humorous too- and supposedly something of an allegory for the USA's cultural relationship with Old Europe? That's one interpretation, anyway.

The reader isn't supposed to like/identify with Humbert Humbert- he's an unreliable narrator, of course he's going to justify his dark obsession with Lolita. There are times when you catch glimpses of Lolita's distress through his academic pontificating and justification of his actions.

The old Kubrick film with Peter Sellers is very good, too.

I read it years ago, and think I might revisit - honestly can't remember much about it. I did read Notes on a Scandal more recently by Zoe Heller, and I found that deeply uncomfortable.

anneriordan Tue 12-Mar-13 16:51:12

I haven't read it for ages and was probably a bit too young to do so when I did. But it was great enough that I remember loads of it, and when I come across quotations from it in other writing like essays or reviews I think about reading it again. One thing I seem to remember is that whatever Humbert says, Dolores/Lolita is absolutely not seductive (try visualising/verbalising things she does or says directly, without Humbert weaving his false commentary around them). There isn't a scrap of adulthood in Lolita so it's blindingly obvious any "seduction" is in Humbert's wishful delusions.

anneriordan Tue 12-Mar-13 16:54:34

And PS I thought Petronella Wyatt was "well" educated, in which case she should know the title of her horrible article referenced on another of today's threads is deeply appropriate and "my father's friends were decrepit Humberts" would have made the point clearer.

SpringHare Tue 12-Mar-13 17:09:55

Quite, anneriordan. A 'Lolita', in the (vile) sense that Wyatt is using the word, can only exist in the deluded mind of a Humbert. It's depressing that the idea of a culpable, knowing 'Lolita' has such popular currency, when it's pretty much impossible to imagine the DM or most other media describing someone as a 'Humbert'.

anonymosity Tue 12-Mar-13 17:31:54

Its an hilarious book - I wept laughing in some places. But I studied literature and so when I read I do enjoy books but can also take a step back, if that makes sense. I struggled with the misogyny of Norman Mailer sometimes at college and was advised to attempt to see past it, which I ultimately did.

KatyPeril Tue 12-Mar-13 17:53:30

I've read it, years ago. I quite enjoyed it. It isn't overly creepy, or pornographic. It's hard to explain.

It's one of my favourite books - a truly excellent work of literature. DD1 read it aged 15/16 and loved it too.

MiddleAgeMiddleEngland Tue 12-Mar-13 19:35:42

I've read it. Compulsory reading at university, but can't remember that much about it more than 30 years later.

Kirk1 Tue 12-Mar-13 21:28:51

Bloody hell he loves himself doesn't he! Forget "nymphets" what he wants to make love to is a mirror....

peeriebear Tue 12-Mar-13 21:40:03

I love it too. It's not 'pervy' at all. Humbert is repugnant and deluded.

wafflingworrier Tue 12-Mar-13 21:56:23

i read it when i was 16 and hated it, i remember thinking the only reason it's still in cirulation is because of its controversial subject matter. she annoyed me as much as he did.

MooncupGoddess Tue 12-Mar-13 22:04:41

Possibly the funniest book I have ever read.

It's like eating foie gras, though... delicious, and full of complex rich flavours, but you feel rather soiled afterwards.

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