70 of 129 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2011
"Lolita, or the confessions of a murderer and panty sniffer" is the most famous novel of Vladimir Nabokov, one of the (inexplicably for me) sacred cows in twentieth century literature. A masterpiece of the English language for some, a manual of pedophilia for others, or just a plain overrated novel for the rest. Divided into two parts, its main characters are the twelve year old (and spoiled brat) Lolita and Humbert Humbert, a scholar of somewhat aristocratic origins able to encapsulate perfectly on his fictitious persona the type of irritating male character omnipresent in all Nabokov's narratives: the egotistical prick. "Lolita" is a textbook example of "style over substance", the problem is that not even the style alone in this particular case is very good either. If you are the kind of reader who likes sparse but meaningful prose, stay away from this book, as its whole amount of unbridled alliteration, pedantic metaphors, pretentious pseudo-poetic nonsense, ludicrous associations and superfluous descriptions will be exasperating to you, though also illustrative of Nabokov's manic attempts to dazzle the reader at all costs. This American writer of Russian descent conceives literary language as something completely affected, remote and out of the way from average speaking habits. A certainly insufferable approach for anyone holding antithetic contemporary authors like George Orwell as masterful writers by comparison (my case). An inexperienced reader may be tempted to think that elaborate or ornate language is always the equivalent of depth and substance in literature, but time and experience shows that the most difficult thing in any literary composition is not to be overblown, baroque or notoriously obtuse, but to be able of writing about challenging and complicated concepts in a precise, sharp and economical way. As a matter of fact, no one should forget that the kind of people who enjoy Nabokov's tripe and regard his craftsmanship as "supreme" are also the ones who usually consider a crass writer like James Joyce a "genius" or Jorge Luis Borges an "amazing storyteller". When all this have been said and done (and the adequate comparisons made), nothing else can be added. This rant of mine is because I'm getting very tired of late with all the snobbery and the nonsense surrounding these modern/postmodern giants of clay who only wrote narcissistic garbage gravitating around their own navels.
Ok, but let's not get carried away. As I previously said, "Lolita" is divided into two parts. The first one narrates in some detail the reminiscences of the main male protagonist, basically consisting in his childhood and teenage years and his inability to cope with the loss of a very loved one. This dramatic event is what really unleashes the plot of the novel. From now on, the poor reader will have to deal on his own with a whimpering and self-justified pedophile bent on his quest to recreate past love affairs. Nabokov spares no efforts to get across to the reader the loathing and contempt that Humbert Humbert has in abundant store for just about everybody with the exception of himself and his masturbatory cloud-cuckoo-land. This crackpot is one of those immature and self-pitying dullards whom you would grab by the lapels and furiously slap several times in the face while exhorting him with something like: ""Get over it!!! You idiot!!!""
Through a chain of events involving several of his acquaintances, our lovable H.H. will become a tenant (a purist like Ambrose Bierce would have vomited at the use of the word "roomer" by Nabokov -among other things-) in the house of Charlotte Haze, a widow. There he will meet Haze's (lovely?) daughter and become infatuated with her. From this point onwards until the end of the first part, Humbert will appear kind of distraught and restless, always on the very verge of a violent discharge of his vesicular glands at the most minimal touch or physical contact with his beloved. The rest of the time, especially when his "nymphet" is not around, cosmopolitan Humbert just behaves as your average panty sniffer (minus the stocking-on-head) by quenching his immoderate passion with the help of any article of clothing belonging to the "brat of his dreams". As the action progresses, he ends up marrying his landlady with the sole purpose of becoming Lolita's stepfather. The presence of Charlotte Haze at home constitutes a huge obstacle for Humbert's fulfillment of his demented child-rape fantasies, but hey, nothing that a good old "deus ex machina" cannot mend. Once that the child's mother is out of the picture, our friend Humbert is free to rub his hands and await in ecstatic bliss at the prospect of the pedophilic feast he will soon delight in.
Part two of the novel sees the two protagonists (one a criminal, the other a sexual slave of sorts) wandering thorough the roads of the United States, doing pretty much nothing apart from buying useless stuff, talking about puerilities, fooling around and pernoctating in seedy motels where uninvited flies buzz in and out of the room and strangers' hairs may be found upon the pillow (Nabokov, that insightful and grim social realist...). The first part of the book was mildly amusing (in a despicable, bizarre and involuntarily comical way) but the second one is as funny as a ship full of bricks. It just drags on and on telling us basically the same things with monotonous reiteration. Humbert's rubbishy, hateful and sophomoric worldview coupled with unbearable monologues punctuated by Nabokov's playfully dull and self-centered prose will make you wish that the author would have fallen into the hands of the Russian CHEKA back in the day. The remainder of the novel deals with Lolita going to school and enjoying her social life until her unexpected disappearance and the final (and awfully anticlimactic) denouement with which this overrated book closes once and for all.
This novel is a failure as regards both its unnatural and bombastic style and its lack of character development. The two protagonists, especially Humbert, are irrational puppets who can't seem to think straight. They are like animals slaved by their base instincts, and the combination of Humbert's so-called European erudition and sophistication does not harmonize at all with his persistent childish and immature fetishes concerning "nymphets", as he calls them. Lolita is just a plaything, a pleasure doll who withstands sexual slavery without complaining and asking for help at all (even at the time when she's completely surrounded by other adults). The plot feels contrived and unconvincing, a mere excuse for the author to display his verbal pyrotechnics and to cause some stir due to the book's lurid subject matter. Also, unlike others, I personally found myself unable to feel any kind of empathy with that conceited clown called Humbert Humbert during the whole length of the novel. It really gets tiresome for any rational and sane being to hear the elaborated moanings of this walking human disgrace trying to justify his sexual abuse of a mere child. Of course, no moral reflection of any kind permeates the text, as Nabokov always lacked the nerve to do so, being much more interested in leafing through the thesaurus looking for the next big combination of preposterous adjectives or ingenious (though ultimately shallow) puns. Someone should have told him that tomfoolery has its limits, even within the bounds of a fictional frame, and that the reader also has a life of his own. For more information about Nabokov's ludicrous and superficial conception of literary art, check out the novel's afterword.
At the end, the only impression that remained in me as a reader was that of having wasted my time in another worldwide overpraised and overlong novel, the verbal fireworks of which are not worth the effort at all. "Lolita" just hides behind the veil of its rhetorical flowery a nihilistic and shallow panorama written by an author incapable of a really poignant or insightful portrayal of the human condition. And unfortunately, I'm very much afraid that his florid syntax won't do the trick alone. After having suffered this, I suspect that Nabokov lived in his own muddy and artificial paradise of egocentric aesthetic bliss. On the other hand, Lolita's pervasive cultural influence, however, has been far from insignificant, as seen in the titillating advertisements of 24 hour telephonic hotlines and sorted websites everywhere featuring school girls in all manner of playful attitudes and postures. And by the same token, that is how much attention this postmodern trash, this elaborately shallow filth, deserves. A scarce reward for so much intellectual effort, I'm afraid.
14 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2012
It was an interesting read at age 15. Having picked it up again at the age of 35 (like Catcher in the Rye) I realize it's overrated and pretentious. Overly flowery language encapsulating an uninteresting and overdone plot. Older man and pre-adolescent hypersexual woman - please let's not exaggerate the originality of that concept, it has existed for millennia now. In fact, you'll find similar stories in every chapter of the Bible, i.e., in the patriarchy preceding all patriarchies. The moral backdrop to this (not so) novel was only pretense to earn this author praise for broaching what has always existed as an ethical struggle for some humans. It is ridiculous that men of this era were unable to sell books to the illiterati without overt oppression of women as the tour de force.