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Beth Meacham, David Brin


Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov, Craig Raine I read most classics in audiobook format. Sometime this works wonders as with War and Peace or Don Quixote which need a lot of time and patience to plow through. On the other hand some books are hard to follow in audio format, I am not sure whether it is because of the book or the narrator. In the case of Lolita the book is narrated by Jeremy Irons, a great actor who actually portrayed Humbert (the book’s protagonist and first person narrator) in the 1997 adaptation of the book (not the Kubrick one). I suspect that Irons may be too good an actor to read audiobooks as the narration often seems very “actory” with sudden shifts in phrasing and enunciations which make the reading harder to follow, Nabokov’s occasionally rambling prose style does not help. That said I did enjoy Irons’ delivery, it reminds me of his voice performance as Scar in The Lion King.

As you probably know Lolita is the story of a pedophile who calls himself “Humbert Humbert” for the purpose of this book. The rather torrid story is disturbingly told from Humbert’s warped point of view; it chronicles his early life, the development of his deviancy and his fateful discovery of the eponymous twelve year old Lolita (Dolores “Lolita” Haze). Unfortunately for Lolita, she exactly fits his fantasy ideal of a young “nymphet” and unfortunately for Humbert, Lolita is initially more than willing to indulge him. Humbert disgracefully worms his way into Lolita’s life by first becoming her widowed mother’s tenant then her step-father. After the mother’s sudden demise Humbert has the poor girl all to himself and they start travelling together. Soon the narrative settles into an episodic road trip complete with a phantom stalker for the middle section of the book. There is no lurid sex scene to speak of though the book is still something of an uncomfortable read due to its subject matter and Humbert’s perverted internal dialogue, his increasing paranoia and madness.

I have a feeling I cannot say I love, enjoy, am thrilled by or even like this book without feeling there is something unsavory or at least inappropriate about the statement. Can I just say I admire it for its literary values? I like the author’s sardonic style, the irony and the dark humour. There is also some pathos to emotionally engage with and a rather bizarre almost surreal climax.

The characters are very well drawn, sure Humbert is a creepy guy, not even antihero, and yet he is pitiful in his aberration and his belated attempt to redeem himself. There is an even worse creep than him that shows up in the book’s second half. As for Lolita she is not exactly an innocent young girl but she is quite naïve and her life with Humbert is a depressing and squalid one.

I finished Lolita on the same day as J.G. Ballard’s
Crash (print edition) and it is probably not fair to Ballard to compare him to Nabokov who is generally regarded as one of the all-time greats by the literati. However, both books feature sexual deviancy in extremely different styles of presentation and Lolita is clearly a far better book. I also expect the printed edition would work much better for me, so back to the TBR with this one!