Coy best describes Alisson Wood’s relationship with the reader in Being Lolita. Wood cunningly uses the reader’s knowledge so that, at decisive points, they either read with or against the grain of this text ... Enacting the very structure of Nabokov’s novel, Wood explores the parallels between her relationship and Dolores Haze’s and expertly plays into this titillating trope: an illicit affair between teacher and student. However, Wood does not stop at mere mimicry. In her resonant and impressionistic prose, Wood dismantles the fantasy showing its underbelly ... Placing the reader directly into adolescent Alisson’s subjective experience often provoked potent feelings of frustration, discomfort, and desire, just as Alison felt them. Using seduction as a narrative tool, Wood flirts with readers, pulling them into the web of her relationship with Mr. Nick North. The reader’s background knowledge of Lolita adds dramatic irony, which Wood deftly uses to her advantage, creating a haunting effect as Wood delivers seemingly innocuous but impactful lines. Combined, these tactics give Wood the ability to parallel and detract from Nabokov’s work as needed to serve the memoir’s ultimate goal, illustrating the power of an unreliable narrator to shape a story. While the power of the memoir comes with its precision, it was, at times, also its shortcoming ... The tight grip Wood uses to drive the narrative forward can also be reined back at a moment’s notice, never allowing the reader to stray too far from Wood’s interpretation of events ... However, even as I write this criticism, I cannot wholly lean into it. As much as it frustrated me, I’m not sure that this is really a problem for Wood’s prose ... Because at the end of the day, this beautiful and powerful memoir should have had to be written.
An account of a teenage affair with a teacher feels like therapy and lacks deep thinking ... If this scene – a predatory teacher grooming a student by encouraging her to read Nabokov – was in a film, you’d rightly think it preposterous. But Being Lolita is not fiction; it’s memoir. The reader, then, must try to put aside the feeling that its author’s account of her relationship with Mr North feels embarrassingly schematic; that by repeatedly returning to Nabokov’s story, as she comes close to admitting herself, she is merely using his narrative to elevate her own ('to raise it above the tawdry'). Nor must we bridle at her depressing verdict on female agency ('no matter how active or passive a girl is, she is still doomed'). She has suffered. To do anything else would be unkind. But I must be honest. This book feels like therapy, and writing should never be only that. If Wood’s style, which aims for suspense – Will Mr North get found out? Will they really wait until she is 18 to sleep together? Will he ditch her once she is at university? – gives it, at moments, the pulpy, almost romantic feel of an airport novel, it’s also unsuccessful. Nothing that happens is surprising; no image lingers long in the mind. Two hundred pages in, and I still had no clear image of Mr North, save for the soft swell of his belly (his weight fixates them both). He remains, throughout, an outline: not a charismatic figure, but a juvenile one ... What’s strange about the result is how little discomfort it involves for the reader; how rarely this narrative truly provokes. There is surely a good and challenging book to be written about the erotic charge that, for good or/and ill, is often involved in pedagogy; about relationships that, though they may be wrong, are not illegal. But Being Lolita , so limp and overly straightforward, is not, alas, it.
... a[n] a unflinching account ... Wood’s potent memoir doubles as a cautionary tale that indicts literary and social tropes of irresistible, sexualized youths. It’s an impressive, provocative outing.