Review of Lolita — 5 years ago
I read the version of this with annotations by Alfred Appel, and found them quite useful. The original text uses a short phrase in French nearly every other page, and to find my own translation of each of them would have been quite frustrating. Most likely, I would have simply glossed over them if I had not had the annotations. His insights into contemporary culture and slang were even more useful, as I am not sure how else I would have found them. However, the annotations occasionally exposed foreshadowing or otherwise gave away “spoilers” to the plot that I would have preferred to not know until I discovered them myself.
As for the actual text, Nabokov’s idea of framing the entire novel as memoir by a narrator who fancies himself a literary expert, complete with a foreword by a fictional editor of the manuscript, is brilliant. Similarly, his ability to cover this material in such detail without delving into the realm of pornography is impressive. With the help of the annotations, I had no difficulty following the entire text and never became bored, which is somewhat unusual for “classic” literature written 50 years ago.
There is no doubt that the material is disturbing, and that Humbert Humbert’s behavior is despicable, but I think most readers can identify with him more easily than they would like. His perversion stems from a need to recapture the unfulfilled delight of his own childhood, and who among us does not long to repeat our youth?