Three star review, originally posted here on March 3, 2019.
Unsurprisingly, this is NOT an easy read. No matter how beautifully written, no matter how clear it is from the very start that we’re not supposed to like the protagonist, it is still unpleasant to read a book about a pedophile. It just is. I can’t give five stars to something that churned my stomach. That being said, this is a beautifully written book. It’s so well-crafted that I can’t give it a low rating. So, we settle in the middle and come up with 3 stars.
One thing that I appreciate, is that Nabokov puts lots of the mist despicable, gross content right near the beginning. It’s a sort of test, I think, to make sure you can handle the book without getting sucked in too far. If you can’t get through his detailed classification of Nymphets (ugh puke blaaagh), then you should just stop. But even more importantly, Nabokov makes sure that we understand just how awful this asshole is. His degrading descriptions of everyone around him, his pathetic treatment of people, his punchable face (we can’t even see his face because this is a book- that’s just how punchable this face is), make it very, very, very clear that he is NOT the good guy. Later, when we get further into the story and listen to him innocently tell a simple love story from his vantage point, these early chapters help keep us readers grounded and aware. It’s the ultimate test of the unreliable narrator, and it’s a credit to Nabokov’s skill that he could pull it off with society’s ultimate villain.
It’s worth noting that I listened to the audiobook with Jeremy Irons’ melodic narration. Bravo to him, because it is easy to understand how someone with such a sexy voice could have charmed so many people along his journey while also being such a creep. But he also managed to squeeze in flashes of the psychopath. I remember specifically one point where he describes Lolita talking to some boys her age, and Irons breaks down for a split possessive moment and says “she’s MINE!” before returning to his restrained storytelling. It was an effective jolt of reality, just to keep the reader/listener on their toes.