Lolita - Vladimir Nabakov
50 Greatest Books
This February, Woolworth's UK incited parental ire with an infelicitously named girl's bedroom set: the Lolita Midsleeper Combi. A spokesperson said, "... the staff had never heard of Lolita. ... We had to look it up on Wikipedia. But we certainly know who she is now."
That's the kind of dumb that makes headlines. Even if you've never had the exquisite pleasure of reading Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, you know its notorious plot: Middle-aged Humbert Humbert is besotted by his 12-year-old stepdaughter, the "nymphet" Dolores Haze. Lolita is one of those rare titles that has been promoted to a term.
Lolita is not just a love story. It is also a jailhouse confession, a picaresque road trip, a parody of the "Freudian voodoo" Nabokov detested, an intricately plotted murder mystery and an impassioned love letter to the U.S. landscape and language. The prose is exuberant and erudite, cantering and bantering, jam-packed with spot-on mimicry and delectable wordplay, as Nabokov revels in his prodigious adopted vocabulary. Uproariously funny and heart-smashingly sad, Lolita is a virtuoso performance, one that leaves other 20th century novels choking on its gorgeous dust.