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the Complete Review
the complete review - literature

Chasing Lolita

Graham Vickers

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To purchase Chasing Lolita

Title: Chasing Lolita
Author: Graham Vickers
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2008
Length: 231 pages
Availability: Chasing Lolita - US
Chasing Lolita - UK
Chasing Lolita - Canada
  • How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov's Little Girl All Over Again
  • With numerous photographs

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Our Assessment:

B : fine overview of Lolita and what was made of her

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Observer . 4/8/2008 Adam Begley

  From the Reviews:
  • "I nevertheless had difficulty adjusting to Graham Vickers' Chasing Lolita, which is essentially a biography of the first and most famous nymphet, Nabokovís Dolores Haze. (...) Though impressed by the range of Mr. Vickersí scholarship, I was unnerved by his avid approach to the novel he repeatedly refers to as Humbert Humbertís "memoir." " - Adam Begley, The New York Observer

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:

       Chasing Lolita is a history of the fictional character from Nabokov's novel and what she, and specifically her name, have come to represent. As Vickers notes, cases of grown men lusting for underage girls were hardly new by the time Nabokov wrote the book -- and Nabokov even referred to a Lolita-like case from the late-1940s in his novel, where pre-teen Sally Horner was kidnapped and travelled for some two years across the United States with a man who sexually abused her.
       Vickers does a solid job of placing the novel (and its off-shoots) in the changing circumstances of the past few decades, describing the initial difficulties Nabokov had in publishing the novel in the UK and US, as well as attitudes towards the two film versions. As he notes, variations of the Lolita-story were commonplace in real-life Hollywood (and in quite a few films) long before Nabokov's book came out, with several major movie figures involved with girls who were way too young, from Charlie Chaplin all the way through to Roman Polanski. The changing mores are also well-documented, with waves of permissiveness following smothering restrictions; the contrast between Brooke Shields' appearance in Pretty Baby, complete with nude scenes, and the contortions that Adrian Lyne had to go through when filming Lolita (complete with pillow separating Dominique Swain from Jeremy Irons in scenes when she sat on his lap) is particularly illuminating.
       Vickers helpfully frequently compares Nabokov's novel with what people made of it and especially its title character, showing where the modern Lolita -- especially in its most ridiculous tabloid incarnations (such as Long Island 'Lolita' Amy Fisher) -- differs entirely from what Nabokov had in mind. Among his interesting speculations are the question of how the much more Lolitaesque (in real life) Tuesday Weld would have fared in Kubick's film -- and the observation that the actress who played the title role in the film adaptation of Zazie in the Metro, Catherine Demongeot:

would have made the perfect Lolita: twelve years old, chestnut hair, slangy speech, mischievous and rebellious, she is also sexually neutral in a way that means any middle-aged man shown to be attracted to her would be immediately identified bu his singular craving and not excused as having a more conventional appetite for pretty young girls.
       Vicker's is good on both films (and Albee's stage-adaptation), describing both the difficulties in getting them made and getting them before the public, as well as the final results. Unfortunately, his preference for Lyne's version goes far beyond the rational. Vickers actually goes so far as to write things like: "Adrian Lyne battled heroically to get his film of Lolita off the ground" (as if there was anything heroic about this kind of movie-making) and, about the finished product, that:
To say that tracking it down is worth the effort would damn with faint praise a superior film that is not only far more faithful to Nabokov's novel than the 1962 version but more faithful than any film version might reasonably have been expected to be.
       Vickers also covers Pia Pera's notorious re-writing of the novel, Lo's Diary (though here more background about the writing and publication of the work would have been helpful), as well as Azar Nafisi's bestselling Reading Lolita in Tehran. He covers real-life examples of girls who were put in similar situations as Lolita (including the recent long-term captivity of Natascha Kampusch), as well as some of the popular-culture reactions. Vickers pretty much admits to being in over his head in considering Japanese 'Lolita Fashion', 'Lolita Gothic', and 'Lolicon' ("It seems even the most innocent assumptions about shared societal values cannot be made when it comes to Japan"), though he gets it enough to (reasonably) judge that:
Courtney Love, in her early days with the alternative rock band Hole, was occasionally hailed as the first bona fide American Loligoth, but despite her contrived look of depraved innocence, achieved through torn baby doll dresses and makeup that looked like it had been applied by a nine-year-old with little mirror experience, Love was no elfin Japanese girl, so the overall effect came out rather differently.
       At his best when he sticks closest to the material -- discussing the adaptations of the book, in film, on stage (though he could have said more about those musical and opera versions ...), and in other books -- Vickers doesn't consider the popular-culture influence of the novel nearly as much as he could. Still, Chasing Lolita is a decent survey of Lolita and the Lolita phenomenon in its many manifestations, before and after Nabokov.

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Chasing Lolita: Reviews: Lolita: Lolita under review at the complete review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Graham Vickers has written several books.

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© 2008-2021 the complete review

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