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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Lolita

by
Vladimir Nabokov


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Lolita



Title: Lolita
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Genre: Novel
Written: 1955
Length: 317 pages
Availability:
US: Lolita
The Annotated Lolita
Lolita (Everyman's ed., intro. by Martin Amis)
Also in: Novels: 1955-1962
UK: Lolita
The Annotated Lolita
Lolita (Everyman's ed., intro. by Martin Amis)
Also in: Novels: 1955-1962
Canada: Lolita
The Annotated Lolita
Also in: Novels: 1955-1962
also: Lolita - France
Lolita - Deutschland
Video: Lolita - Kubrick version
Lolita - Lyne version

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Our Assessment:

A+ : one of the modern greats

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Atlantic Monthly A+ 10/1958 Charles Rolo
The Los Angeles Times . 31/8/1958 Robert R. Kirsch
National Review . 22/11/1958 Frank S. Meyer
The NY Observer . 12/9/2005 David Thomson
The NY Times Book. Rev. A- 17/8/1958 Elizabeth Janeway
Partisan Review A Fall/1956 John Hollander
Saturday Night . 11/10/1958 Robertson Davies
The Spectator C- 6/11/1959 Kingsley Amis
Times Lit. Supp. B+ 13/11/1959 .
The Village Voice . 3/9/1958 Jerry Talmer

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A)bove all Lolita seems to me 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." - Charles Rolo, Atlantic Monthly

  • "If you like Fielding, Smollett and Sterne, if the comic novel of the 18th century appeals to you, you are in for a treat. Lolita is a small masterpiece, an almost perfect comic novel, a rare thing in these days when we have lost sight of the purgative and pleasurable effects of comedy and when tragedy has become the small and poverty-stricken province of southern effetes and New England housewives." - Robert R. Kirsch, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Lolita, in the context of the reception it has been given, remains nevertheless a savage indictment of an age that can see itself epitomized in such horror and run to fawn upon the horror as beauty, delicacy, understanding. But I hope that this is not so, that Mr. Nabokov knew what he was doing. It is so much more exhilarating to the spirit if the evil that human beings have created is castigated by the conscious vigor of a human being, not by the mere accident of the mirror, the momentary unpurposeful reflection of evil back upon evil." - Frank S. Meyer, National Review

  • "And now, 50 years later, itís hard not to see Lolita as a marker for the end of the world (including the larger way in which education has been abandoned) and the shattering of complex artifacts of civilization like the novel. Iíve found no novel in the years since 1955 with so many mixed feelings, or such a natural grasp of a strange, special story and its universal meanings. This is a book in which the caress of words breaks adoringly on the skin-bright beach of the new land, refreshing it briefly but not disturbing its snooze. And so it becomes languageís last gasping tribute to silence or the loss of words." - David Thomson, The New York Observer

  • "Technically it is brilliant, Peter-de-Vries humor in a major key, combined with an eye for the revealing, clinching detail of social behavior. (...) This is still one of the funniest and one of the saddest books that will be published this year." - Elizabeth Janeway, The New York Times Book Review

  • "There is no clinical, sociological, or mythic seriousness about Lolita, but it flames with a tremendous perversity of an unexpected kind." - John Hollander, Partisan Review

  • "(Humbert's) plight is comic, and it is as high comedy that it is presented. (...) Virtuosity, so much admired in some other arts, is at present unfashionable in literature. Can it be that those who feared the book and banned it felt that something really horrifying -- something far beyond the anthropoidal simplicities of Peyton Place -- lurked beneath the gleaming surface of Lolita ?" - Robertson Davies, Saturday Night

  • "There comes a point where the atrophy of moral sense, evident throughout this book, finally leads to dullness, fatuity and unreality (...) The only success of the book is in the portrait of Lolita herself." - Kingsley Amis, The Spectator

  • "Lolita is a markedly original book, with dozens of brilliant comic passages in it: but (James Branch Cabell's) Jurgen may serve as a cautionary tale to those critics who in their worthy wish to attack the rigidities of modern censorship have been deceived into calling it a great novel." - Times Literary Supplement

  • "Three hundred pages of sex in the head. A good number of them funny pages, I admit. Even delicately Joycean. But too many, and too much." - Jerry Talmer, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Lolita, light of so many lives, fire of so many loins, has become so much more than merely the book Nabokov wrote. The story of the young nymphet, Dolores (Lolita) Haze, and her seducer, Humbert Humbert, lives beyond the confines of the novel. In all the fuss about the story (and the films and Lolita-variations that keep appearing) Nabokov's novel is sometimes forgotten. This is unfortunate, because Nabokov's novel is a remarkable work of artistry, among the finest written in English in the second half of the twentieth century.
       The story is well-known: Humbert Humbert has a thing for young lasses, "nymphets" as he calls them, certain maidens "between the age limits of nine and fourteen" whose allure certain "bewitched travelers" can succumb to. Succumb he does, marrying Dolores Haze's mother, becoming the girl's sole guardian, travelling across the country with her, losing her.
       It is a tragic love story, a paean to America, a sordid tale humanized, a work of comic genius. Most of all it is Nabokov's writing: artfully crafted the book is a delight to read (and re-read -- as is necessary to uncover some of its secrets).
       What happens in the book is terrible -- and its focus, which is, after all, around a man of about forty engaging in sexual relations with a barely pubescent girl, is particularly nasty -- but Nabokov humanizes his characters, and though what Humbert does is unforgivable the reader is entranced by the story. It is a peculiar thing that Nabokov has wrought here, but it is brilliant. Few novels are both as sad and as amusing as this one, with Nabokov mixing and managing both tragedy and comedy perfectly.
       Essential reading, strongly recommended.


       Note that the novel should not be judged by its films. Kubrick's and Lyne's versions are pornographic in their own right, but what Nabokov proposed is of a different order. Both Sue Lyon and Dominique Swain (the film Lolitas) are considerably too old and mature in bearing for the part. Nabokov's nymphets are different creatures. And, while Kubrick's atmospheric film conjures up something (and Lyne's absolutely nothing), Nabokov's prose is so rich and his presentation so carefully thought-through that the book proves superior to the films at every turn.

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Links:

Lolita: Reviews: The Lolita Movies:
  • IMDb site on Kubrick's version.
  • IMDb site on Lyne's version.
Vladimir Nabokov:
  • The fine Zembla site, devoted to Nabokov.
  • Nabokov A-Z (includes concordance to Lolita)
Lolita under review at the complete review: Other books by Vladimir Nabokov under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Lila Azam Zanganeh on Nabokov and Happiness in The Enchanter
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction

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About the Author:

       Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) was among the leading authors of the 20th century, writing significant works in both Russian and English. He is the author of novels such as Lolita, Pale Fire, and Ada.

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