Thursday, March 02, 2006

"Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov

When I signed up for an Audible trial a few months back, one of the audiobooks I download was Nabakov's Lolita. I've read it before, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I've wanted to purchase this recording since high school when I first saw it on audio tape. This audiobook is unabridged (a little over 11 hours total) and is narrated by none other than Jeremy Irons.
I cannot tell you how great his narration is. And the fact that he himself played Humbert umbert in a great film version of Lolita makes it even better. I got so much more out of the book by listening to it. I feel like I can pick up a lot more details when I listen.
In addition, Lolita has the perfect organizational structure that makes it perfect as an audiobook.
I'm not giving away any plot endings here, but Lolita is largely a statement by Humbert Humbert to his jury for a murder charge. It is also a part memoir and part therapy for Humbert. That he is incarcerated and recounting how he fell in love with his nymphet step-daughter is a great vehicle for narration.
Many other novels don't have such a strong narrator (or at least the narrator is often not the main character but a kind of deity that knows all). These books will happen in real-time and feature dialogue between characters as it happens. The problem here is that an audiobook narrator must constantly try to change voices (which is never good) and repeat phrases like "he replied" or "she said." I think an audiobook would work if they tried to delete those types of phrases, making it sound more like a play-version of the book. But with Lolita, you get the exact image of Humbert Humbert as Humbert Humbert.
Granted the subject matter--pedophilia--might not be suitable for some of you, this book is able to create a specific time, atmosphere and uniquely drab, American world of anonymity that its readers can never really forget. Jeremy Irons' voice is forever imprinted in my head.
I was sad to hear the last few sentences of Lolita. It's the feeling you get when you finish a great movie at home and then turn on some sitcom that seems far less significant. So to fill the void, I have begun listening to Theodore Dreiser's "Sister Carrie," which is about 17 hours long. I have not read this novel before, though I am familiar with his book "An American Tragedy," which is a fantastic read.


Mad.J.D. said...

All of Nabokov's narrators are great, and Humbert Humbert is widely considered one of the greatest narrators of all time, a consensus to which I subscribe. I'm going to have to check out this audiobook for sure. When was it recorded?

Anonymous said...

Here, here: Nabokov is king. I think his command of English, and his ability to express with it what few native speakers can, is matched only by Goethe's use of German.

Too much of the oeuvre merits little attention next to Lolita; I find this a little distressing. For a great lesson in early 20th Century European history, try his memoir Speak, Memory. For more on the isolation of the immigrant, Pnin. For genre-crossing experimentation, Pale Fire.

Thanks for remembering literature; law school has almost made me forget how to read 'real' books.