Audiobook, Classic

Banned Books Week: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita
This is the story of Humbert Humbert, told in his own words through a journal, and his obsession with Dolores Haze, an almost 13-year old girl who only he called Lolita. I have a vague recollection of the original movie starring James Mason, Shelley Winters & Sue Lyon, which I watched as a pre-teen (surely my mother didn’t know anything about the film). I was clueless and missed what was going on but over the years came to understand what the term “Lolita” came to mean in our lexicon. I think I watched one scene of the newer film starring Jeremy Irons, who narrates this story, and realized I wasn’t emotionally up to watching it.

So, this was my reading choice for Banned Book Week, read with two other Goodreads companions. This was a tough listening experience because I felt like I was in the mind of a pedophile for most of the book. It felt like a primer for those wanting to satisfy those inclinations. Yes, the writing is exquisite, often clever and the humor wry. It helped but not a lot through the journey.

But a strange thing happened as I neared the end of the story. It is too easy to simply characterize Humbert as a dirty old man. There’s an event early in his life that sort of explains his attraction to a type of young girl, “nymphets” as he calls them that’s difficult to ignore. The ending provided an enlightenment that made it clear, at least for this reader, that his feelings for Lolita went far beyond a sexual attraction. It doesn’t excuse his behavior but I also cannot pigeonhole it to a convenient label.

We never get Dolores’ point of view so her characterization is solely through Humbert’s lens. There are those who saw her as sexualized and a seducer (Dorothy Parker for one) because that’s how he saw her, as if she were an equal partner in their relationship. I’m not in that camp and have my reasons.

I added this book to my shelf because of a blogger friend who was reviewing a true crime story about Sally Horner, considered to be the “real Lolita” and who is mentioned in the story (thank you Ren @ What’s Nonfiction). She recommended I read this first and I’m glad I did. Jeremy Irons delivered an amazing performance that made it hard to listen to but also more meaningful. I get why the book was banned as it is most definitely provocative even by today’s standards let alone in 1955 when it was originally published. Nabokov asserted that there is no moral to the story and I let it overwhelm me without looking for deeper meaning and recommend that approach. This story will haunt me forever, especially that ending.

Book Info

Release Date: June 27, 2006 (originally 1955)
Narrator: Jeremy Irons
Audio Length: 11 hours, 28 minutes
Publisher: Random House Audio

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26 thoughts on “Banned Books Week: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov”

  1. I read it a couple of years ago but I do think I was a bit too young for that. I honestly don’t remember that much, and I’m sure that I didn’t understand much either. I guess it’s time to re-read it, this time with much more mature lenses on 😉

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  2. It’s an infamous book that’s all! I didn’t read the book so can’t say much about the writing but the movie showed how filthy that pedophile’s mind is.

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  3. I think this says a lot about the viewpoint of the main character: “We never get Dolores’ point of view so her characterization is solely through Humbert’s lens.” which contributes to his fallen self-identity. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. I read a book about Sally Horner and it was so sad. I am not sure if I want to read this one or not, but it sounds like one that might be important to read or listen to. For banned book week I am listening to My Sister’s Keeper.

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  5. So great to hear your thoughts on this, and glad I could help point you to it! (or maybe that’s not the way to phrase it, because yeah, it’s tough). And it is a really complex story, and does feel so strange, as you mention, to not have the story from Dolores’s perspective. And it’s so interesting that your feelings or thinking about it changed. An example of what a complex piece of literature can do.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh that makes me so happy to hear, Jonetta!! Thank you for letting me know. I completely agree too — I find that I like it when a book leaves me feeling conflicted. It makes you question things much deeper. I’m glad it was such an experience for you!!

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