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Lolita Paperback – March 13, 1989
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Despite its lascivious reputation, the pleasures of Lolita are as much intellectual as erogenous. It is a love story with the power to raise both chuckles and eyebrows. Humbert Humbert is a European intellectual adrift in America, haunted by memories of a lost adolescent love. When he meets his ideal nymphet in the shape of 12-year-old Dolores Haze, he constructs an elaborate plot to seduce her, but first he must get rid of her mother. In spite of his diabolical wit, reality proves to be more slippery than Humbert's feverish fantasies, and Lolita refuses to conform to his image of the perfect lover.
Playfully perverse in form as well as content, riddled with puns and literary allusions, Nabokov's 1955 novel is a hymn to the Russian-born author's delight in his adopted language. Indeed, readers who want to probe all of its allusive nooks and crannies will need to consult the annotated edition. Lolita is undoubtedly, brazenly erotic, but the eroticism springs less from the "frail honey-hued shoulders ... the silky supple bare back" of little Lo than it does from the wantonly gorgeous prose that Humbert uses to recount his forbidden passion:
She was musical and apple-sweet ... Lola the bobby-soxer, devouring her immemorial fruit, singing through its juice ... and every movement she made, every shuffle and ripple, helped me to conceal and to improve the secret system of tactile correspondence between beast and beauty--between my gagged, bursting beast and the beauty of her dimpled body in its innocent cotton frock.Much has been made of Lolita as metaphor, perhaps because the love affair at its heart is so troubling. Humbert represents the formal, educated Old World of Europe, while Lolita is America: ripening, beautiful, but not too bright and a little vulgar. Nabokov delights in exploring the intercourse between these cultures, and the passages where Humbert describes the suburbs and strip malls and motels of postwar America are filled with both attraction and repulsion, "those restaurants where the holy spirit of Huncan Dines had descended upon the cute paper napkins and cottage-cheese-crested salads." Yet however tempting the novel's symbolism may be, its chief delight--and power--lies in the character of Humbert Humbert. He, at least as he tells it, is no seedy skulker, no twisted destroyer of innocence. Instead, Nabokov's celebrated mouthpiece is erudite and witty, even at his most depraved. Humbert can't help it--linguistic jouissance is as important to him as the satisfaction of his arrested libido. --Simon Leake
"The only convincing love story of our century." —Vanity Fair
"Lolita blazes with a perversity of a most original kind. For Mr. Nabokov has distilled from his shocking material hundred-proof intellectual farce…Lolita seems an assertion of the power of the comic spirit to wrest delight and truth from the most outlandish materials. It is one of the funniest serious novels I have ever read; and the vision of its abominable hero, who never deludes or excuses himself, brings into grotesque relief the cant, the vulgarity, and the hypocritical conventions that pervade the human comedy." —Atlantic Monthly
"Intensely lyrical and wildly funny." —Time
"The conjunction of a sense of humor with a sense of horror [results in] satire of a very special kind, in which vice or folly is regarded not so much with scorn as with profound dismay and a measure of tragic sympathy…The reciprocal flow of irony gives to both the characters and their surroundings the peculiar intensity of significance that attends the highest art." —The New Yorker
"Lolita is an authentic work of art which compels our immediate response and serious reflection–a revealing and indispensable comedy of horrors." —San Francisco Chronicle
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Spare yourself from this hassle and just buy "The Annotated Lolita."
On the surface, you might imagine it uncomfortable to read a story in which our narrator and protagonist is a middle aged man with an obsessive fetish for "nymphets," who forms a sexual relationship with a 12 year old girl, traveling around the country while cunningly passing himself off as her father. But readers might find it reassuring(or disappointing) to know that there's actually very little obscenity in this novel, that sex is never actually described in detail, that the closest it comes to erotica would be when Lo reclines and naively rests her legs on the narrator's lap for the first time, that this book is actually a highbrow comedy. Humbert Humbert(or H.H.), as he calls himself, is a handsome, wealthy, and intelligent man, who, seemingly bored and callous to the world, constantly injects his uniquely blithe and sardonic humor into the text. Every character he meets is mocked with a jolly contempt. Every scenario in this book is turned into a parody. Consciously aware of his own creepiness and mental fragility, "lucidly insane," H.H. even parodies himself.
Here you will find a writing style that will make you feel more sophisticated just for having understood it. There are literary allusions to please the English buffs, along with an expansive vocabulary including, but not limited to, some rare and exotic words which do not even appear in the standard Kindle dictionary. But most of the humor, I think, is really in the tone and the way characters are portrayed, and even if you don't quite understand every remark H.H. makes, none of this is really necessary to appreciate the story.
In Part Two, the focus starts to shift a bit to some of the more subtle features of their relationship: the places they visited, Dolly growing up, Dolly bringing friends over, Dolly playing tennis, etc. I found it impressive to see how the characters changed and developed throughout this part, and Humbert Humbert's reflections on their relationship were even somewhat profound sometimes. Some people who aren't interested in the aesthetics here might find this area to be a little slow, but I promise you'll be rewarded soon after. The second to last chapter is hilarious.
As for the annotations, they were ok. They provide some extra background information, they translate the French for you, but they were nothing special. Some reviewers have complained about the lack of in-text hyperlinks, but I honestly don't think these would have been beneficial. The numerical chapter headings already have hyperlinks, my kindle app lets me jump back and forth with just a couple finger taps, and in-text hyperlinks would have been distracting. However, A.A. does seem to give away some spoilers in his annotations, so for those who would prefer a full immersion experience and who would like to try to predict some mysteries on their own, I might suggest actually ignoring the annotations the first time they read Lolita, or at least the ones that don't translate French.
The introduction seemed to start off well until Appel started talking about literary involution. There is a lot of involution in Lolita, realism is deliberately thrown out the window sometimes, but I saw this as contributing to the comical effect and nothing more. Appel seems to interpret some kind of subjectivist philosophical meaning in it which I thought just went too far. His anecdote about the Puppet Show, and how his 5 and 3 year old children began laughing to steel themselves against the terror of questioning the reality of reality(whatever that means) was so stupid, I immediately skipped the rest of the Introduction and continued onto the Foreword. Nabokov's commentary on Lolita at the end, however, was pleasant.
There's around 200 pages worth of footnotes and they have a link to the footnotes at the front of each chapter - but no link on the things that are being foot-noted and no indication at all that they were discussed.
There's no easy way to switch back and forth between the footnotes and the main text. To look something up you basically have to page backwards to the first page of the chapter, click on the link, then page forward through the notes to the item you're interested in, then admittedly there IS a link provided there to send you back to the main text.
So to make the links work without constant paging back and forth, it's almost like you have to read the full notes for the chapter BEFORE reading the chapter. It's really distracting and pulling me out of the narrative. I thought it was going to be individual footnotes so I could look things up as I came across them - not one giant note for the whole chapter. (Little individual footnotes was how the intro is formatted.)
You can jump from one footnote to another, from the footnote to multiple spots in the text, etc. But you can't jump directly from the text to the footnote!
I think this is one book that would work a lot better with paper rather than this really poorly formatted ebook edition.