LOLITA’S LYNCH MOB • by Sarah Hilary

The reading group met on Fridays. Beryl baked, badly it must be said. Timothy liked to experiment with herbal teas. They convened in the living-room, by the bay window.

Margaret, who’d never got over the end of The English Patient, said, “Why does nobody do happy-ever-after any more?”

Everyone nodded, china chattering.

“If it was up to me,” Richard said, “Humbert Humbert would’ve been buggered to death by a bear.”

“Grizzly,” Beryl approved. “Prison’s too good for some.”

Fervent consensus, the slop of coffee in saucers; the group felt strongly about this. They rarely disagreed amongst themselves, preferring to combine forces to tackle the chosen text.

It was a week after they’d finished with Lolita that Timothy made the discovery. He arrived waving a Penguin paperback of Nabokov’s novel. “Here, on page 308!”

They huddled around to look. Gone was Humbert’s tardy remorse as he listened to the children playing sans Lolita. In its place was a graphic description of his suffering at the paws of a big brown bear: “Ravished for a fifth time, I was cast aside with indifference, knowing my fate to be both poignant and just.”

A flurry of excitement followed, as the reading group hunted down as many copies of the novel as they could find, old and new, each time discovering the same thing: their wish had come true. Lolita now ended with the ursine sodomy of Nabokov’s nasty narrator.

“Well,” said Beryl. “What a turn-up.”

It wasn’t just the novel which underwent a transformation following the group’s energetic vilification of the text. Both film adaptations of Lolita had miraculously changed to reflect their preferred denouement. The James Mason version used a cut-away as the bear swaggered onscreen. The more recent adaptation was less diffident. The look on Jeremy Irons’ face, they all agreed, was priceless.

“We did it,” Timothy said, between elation and dismay. “We changed the ending, forever.”

“What’re we reading next?” Richard rubbed his hands.

Margaret held up The Satanic Verses.

“D’you think we should…?”

Lolita might’ve been a fluke…”

“True. I mean, what’re the chances of it happening twice?”

“I’ll bake a lemon drizzle,” Beryl promised.

Two months later, they reconvened. Sheepish looks were exchanged. No one liked to say anything. The news blackout was a blessing; they could only guess at how bad things might be in the world beyond their village.

“No cake, Beryl?”

“No eggs, Tim.”


Sarah Hilary’s stories have been published by Velvet Mafia, MYTHOLOG, Heavy Glow, Apollo’s Lyre, Twisted Tongue, Four Volts, Neon and the Boston Literary Magazine. Her short story, On the line, was published in the Daunt Books 2006 anthology. She won the Litopia “Winter Kills” Contest in 2007. Sarah lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and young daughter.

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 average 4.2 stars • 14 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Anna

    Very funny, and for such a short story, the ending packed quite a punch.

  • Thanks, Anna, I’m glad it worked for you.

  • Lisa

    Ha! Such clever, snappy writing. Your bleak humour very much appealed, and I liked the alliteration throughout. Great story.

  • Thanks, Lisa, you’re very kind.

  • Sarah – wonderful story, biting and very very funny!
    “Well,” said Beryl. “What a turn-up.”
    Fabulous, there’s so much summed up here, so many distinct characters in such a short space. Long live flash fiction!

  • Many thanks, Tania, I really appreciate your kind comments. And, yes! Flash fiction is the tops. I’m so pleased there’s a venue like this that recognises its worth. Long live Every Day Fiction, too!

  • Lamia Van Marle

    Fabulous! I loved this piece when I first read it and it’s even wittier now. LOVE the bit about the eggs. And, of course, the bit about Jeremy Irons’ face – pricesless!

  • Thank you, Lamia. I’m delighted I was able to make you laugh with that image of Jeremy Irons’ face. Let’s hope he doesn’t try and sue!

  • DJ Barber

    Delightful! Love the premise.

  • I was very impressed at the sheer number of characters Sarah was able to squeeze until such a small space. They all felt distinctive.

    You guys will be glad to know that we’ve picked up more of Sarah’s work. Her stories are coming up again in October!

  • Thanks, Jordan. Your enthusiasm, and Camille’s, made all the difference to the usefully-fraught submission process. Loving this venue, and the comment facility which makes it stand apart from other flash sites.

  • Thank you, Grace, that makes me very happy.

  • Sarah, even after reading almost 300 submissions, this is still one of my favourite stories. I was laughing out loud even while proofreading it.

    • Ah, Camille, what can I say to that but Thank You! And for this opportunity to be part of such an exciting new venture.

  • Anne-Elisabeth Moutet

    Marvellous fable, subtle, funny, scary, and so apposite in the wonderful times we live in. I love the allusive ending; not a word more than needed.

    • Thank you, Anne-Elizabeth. I’m very glad it worked so well for you and that you found it apposite.

  • Sam

    Very imaginative idea. I love that you fit it into a flash fiction mold without sacrificing any of the flow or wit.

    • Thanks, Sam, it was tempting to expand it into a short story as I was unsure it worked in so few words, so I really appreciate your comment.

  • Tania Casselle

    Terrific flash, cracked me up. So sharp and sly, and I loved the alliteration too. I hope this story gets recognized further – I’m not sure if Every Day Fiction nominates for any awards, but this is a worthy one. Whatever, thanks for some refreshing literary irreverance. Tania (Nabokov fan.)

    • Tania, thank you! What a very kind thing to say, and from a Nabakov fan, too. That means a lot.

    • Oops, NabOkov fan I meant, of course. That typo plagues me…

    • We are looking into nominating stories for awards. We’re only in the research phase right now, but hopefully we can have something put together soon.

      We also interview authors with the month’s most popular stories and publish the interview in EDF. Later, we plan to sponsor editor’s choice awards.

  • Oonah V Joslin

    Well Sarah, You kicked dust with this one. Well done m’dear. Oonah 🙂

    • Many thanks, Oonah! Looking forward to seeing yours in print here soon.

  • Rumjhum Biswas

    Sarah, you’re story’s so good. I especially enjoyed the idea of reader/s as a powerful entity in the writer’s life. It’s a metaphorical story; at least to me it seems to be so. Especially with the mentioned books as backdrop. And, that post apocalyptic feel! Thank you!

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  • Thank you, Rumjhum, for your positive comments.

  • Lyn

    Shoot, having read neither story I know I missed some subtle allusions, but the gist is obvious and well done – the average reader (like me, lol) with some literary background will appreciate it. I did. 🙂 Lyn from ResAliens

    • Thanks, Lyn, good to know it worked for you even without knowledge of the texts involved. I’m a Nabokov fan but haven’t read Satanic Verses. 🙂

  • I just love this. Beautifully written and like one of the nastily funny Twilight Zone episodes!

  • Thanks, MG! Always good to be likened to the Twlight Zone. 🙂

  • Manisha

    You have a flair for humour; this had me smiling throughout. Great work!

  • Phil

    Excellent, Sarah. Very funny…

  • Johnny A

    I really liked this bit – “Ravished for a fifth time, I was cast aside with indifference, knowing my fate to be both poignant and just.” Really funny. Hope to read more from you in future.

    • Ah, Johnny, you picked the line over which I sweated the most! Attempting to emulate Nabokov was tough – really tough. Thanks for reading and commenting so positively.

  • Claudia

    Ooh, how I love the wicked ending twist!

    And the premise of the readers literally changing the books by the power of their minds reminds me of something Bret Easton Ellis said, how the writer loses any control he ever had over his books and characters once the writing process is over. Brilliant story! 🙂

    • Thanks, Claudia. BEE speaks an imperial truth, and thank goodness for it! Without that notion of a book “going out into the world”, I’d never have been able to come up with this story.

  • maharetr

    Hee! I’m…totally charmed by that, actually. So many details conveyed in so few words. Well done!

  • Aragon

    I’ve wandered over from LJ.

    That was hilarious! Also very clever. ^_^ Good work.

  • Rachel

    Oh, I love this! It’s funny and punchy, and that ending is excellent. I especially love Beryl’s reaction to the Lolita change, and the “sheepish looks were exchanged” – so understated and so awesome.

    Now, did you do it on purpose, I wonder – the old adage about the pen being mightier than the sword which implies that writers can change the world with their words, and this is kind of another side of that, that readers can also change the world. I also liked another commenter’s note about how after the writing process is over and the story released to the readers, the author loses control over the story and the characters.

    Anyway, I loved this. I’mma go look for more stories now.

    • Thanks, Rachel! I admit I found the idea of that sort of power bring in the hands of those sorts of people irresistible. Dear Beryl who would bake a cake if the world was about to end, being baffled as to how exactly she brought about the apocolypse. It was perhaps more the adage, A little learning is a dangerous thing which inspired this story.

  • Stephanie

    Not to repeat what someone else said above, but I just love the black humor and alliteration that lights up this piece. Lines like “Fervent consensus, the slop of coffee in saucers; the group felt strongly about this” made me smile. Also, thanks so much for the image of Jeremy Irons being ravished by a grizzly!

    • I’m glad you mentioned that image, Stephanie. For some reason, it was that image which kickstarted the whole idea for the story. Not that I daydream about ways to humiliate Mr. Irons, please don’t think that. I actually think his portrayal of HH in that movie is one of his best performances. But the bear adds… something. Thanks for reading and letting me know what you liked. S

  • Emma

    I love this story. It’s a fantastic idea. Your writing is beautiful. Very rich and vivid.

  • Raven

    Read it!

  • Jen

    That was delightful! I really loved the whole idea of this story. Not that I’ve ever come across a book club that could agree on anything! 😉 Beryl offering her lemon drizzle for the Satanic Verses cracked me up. Great twist for the ending too!

    • Thanks, Jen. I suspect the book club is a rich vein of inspiration for all sorts of stories. 🙂

  • Sarah

    this is one of those stories I find myself wanting to come back to in order to enjoy the interplay and smiles.

  • Miarr

    Loved it, from the concept to the execution to the clever alliterations sprinkled throughout the text. Something so morbidly *precious* could only spring forth from your brain.

    This concept of a reading–mafia, really, that’s what they are–should seriously be developed. 😀


    • Thanks, Miarr. I wonder what the reading-group mafia do to informers? Concrete book-jacket in the village stream, perhaps?

  • Terrifically clever! Much amusement accomplished in very few words — and that’s not easy, though the effortless tone of the tale could easily fool us into thinking so. Great stuff.

    • Thank you, Kal, your comments made my morning. After working hard to get a story ‘just right’ nothing’s better than hearing it came across as ‘effortless’ – worth all that effort to hear that. S

  • Mel

    I adore the smarts and education in this, and I really enjoyed the sting in the tale. I like the economy of your writing.

    • Thanls, Mel. If you knew the pains I took over that economy – the temptation I have to write flowery prose – you would know how much that comment meant.

  • Hah, I like the imagery with the grizzly bear XD. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand the ending since I’ve never read the Satanic Verses. But overall, a great piece!

    • Thanks, Firestorm. In settling on that ending, I tried to pick a book which, if not widely read (I doubt many people have read the Satanic Verses; I haven’t) would convey its meaning fairly smoothly. Hard to think of a book written in the last 50 years that’s been more controversial, so…

  • Rhiannon Rhodes

    “Ravished for a fifth time, I was cast aside with indifference, knowing my fate to be both poignant and just.”

    I loved this line, I would have believed it was Nabokov’s.

    I loved the humor but something about Lemon Drizzle and Satanic Verses just kept me in giggles.

  • Thanks, Rhiannon. “I loved this line, I would have believed it was Nabokov’s.” I couldn’t ask for better praise than that!

  • Critchell Bullock

    So few words, so many pictures. Brilliant.

  • Ranald Graham

    Delightful! A flawless diamond! Do I sense a nice discrepancy between the awful fate wished upon the narrator by Richard, and the fate bestowed on him in the re-created penguin version? Or is this the greatest posthumous narration since William Holden’s character’s in Sunset Boulevard?

    • Wow, Ranald, you’ve bowled me over with that one! Thank you, thank you! Sunset Boulevard, no less!

  • Raflesya

    A class writing!
    I love your witty, skilful style.

  • chiara

    A delicious short story.

  • Thanks, Chiara!

  • Han

    Behind as ever (honestly, I’m just not thinking about it any more, it’s too depressing), so I’ve only just read, but oh yay, I loved this. The ending is perfect :).

    (Would give more detail if I had time)

  • Jenny

    Loved it Sarah.

  • Jules

    Sarah, a great idea well written.

    I am now going to draw up a list of endings that I want to change and see what my bookgroup can do.

    • Sarah Hilary

      Jules, you rogue! Thanks for reading and commenting. Good luck with the world-changing book clubbery. 🙂

  • Sarah Hilary

    Thanks, Jenny!

  • Lorna

    This was recommended by a friend and I can see why. It’s an amazing story, how did you ever come up with the idea? I’d love to find out. Thanks for luring me here to EDF which is a great site.

  • Many thanks, Lorna. I’m delighted my fic got you over here – it really is a great site. The idea came to me in a dream involving Jeremy Irons. Sorry not to be more esoteric!

  • Tracy

    Very clever, funny, and eminently readable. I loved it.

  • Thanks, Tracy, I’m charmed that you liked it so much.


  • Eve

    Wow, what a superb tale packed into such few words. The alliteration is gorgeous, just adding so much to the atmosphere.

    “The look on Jeremy Irons’ face, they all agreed, was priceless.” – I laughed out loud at this image of them discussing Jeremy Irons features as he was in mid… well you know!

    Oh, and the tea and the cakes and the china showing us how dangerous “well meaning” idiots can be!!!

    Simply marvellous!

  • Thanks, Eve! I’m so glad that bit about Jeremy Irons made you laugh – it was an image that came to be in the night (don’t ask, I don’t know!) and gradually the rest of the story built up around it. Thanks for the positive feedback, I really appreciate it. You’ve made my Sunday morning!

  • I have come here from “The Facts As I Know Them,” having spotted some links. This story is terrific! I have NO quibbles with it! I especially loved, “I’ll bake a lemon drizzle.” Almost a non sequitur, but of course a further indication of the group’s “dynamics,” as well as being funny in itself. That’s a lot to pack into one sentence! (All of this story’s sentences were packed!)

    I’m going to find that other one you wrote now.

    • Thanks, Bonnie! I’m delighted you liked it so much and thank you for taking the time to to leave feedback.

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  • Lorna

    THE best flash fic story I have ever read. Complete, witty, anarchic, it hits you like a bullet and stays with you forever.

    • Hi, Lorna. Sorry for the delay in responding to your terrific feedback – I didn’t pick up the comment until now. You’ve just made my day. Thank you!

  • Carl

    Okay best flash ever. Best. Ever.

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  • I can’t help but wonder what these characters of the classics might have done to the likes of Wuthering Heights… Best guess: Heathcliffe is abducted by aliens and suffered an unfortunate probing. o_O And what of Emma? Could she have become Solent Green? I would hazard a guess at what the group might have done with James Joyce’s Ulysses. 😀

  • Thanks, Dianne, wouldn’t it be a fun game to play?!

  • I guess that’s part of the fun of creating a work of fiction – the ability to play in other worlds and move into the mindset of strange and mysterious beings that may or may not resemble people that we know.

  • Absolutely, Dianne. I also find it strangely fascinating the way in which reading groups read novels, especially “classics” in such a very different manner to “established” reading. That was the germ of this idea. How the same story can be viewed so differently through other eyes than our own.

  • Terri

    Oh, what a Pandora’s Box they may have opened eh? But how boring if we were able to make every ending a happy one! I much enjoyed this piece Sarah.

  • Sarah: I never lived in an area where we had reading groups so I was always stuck viewing television and movie adaptations of a variety of books, as well as enjoying British comedy. I’ve found a trend of sorts between British and USA comedy settings, in that a lot of British shows are set in book clubs and book shops whilst American media is often set in music and comic book stores. Now, I think that your scenario would work easily in the likes of a comic book group as well. I can’t help but hink of how all of those long-term Spiderman fans would react if no clone of Peter Parker ever entered the storyline. o_O I am such a geek. 😀

    Terri: Pandora’s Box? Funny you should say that… 😀

  • Thanks, Terri and Dianne. I hadn’t known about the comic book groups, Dianne – you opened my eyes!

  • Try reading through the forums of roleplaying games. The language used by roleplayers is a sort of lexicon developed by playing a system (there are different types) for an extended period of time. There are also private jokes that only roleplayers understand. Collector Card games often bring out the same habits as well, that secret language and humor that only those in the gaming circle get. The cult following of this game or that show does bring out some odd behavior. Trekkies are the best and most publicized example of this because they aren’t subtle in any regard.

  • It’s a whole new world, by the sounds of it. Thanks, Dianne!

  • And the internet is helping make the world even smaller. 😀

  • True! It’s still an astonishment to me that I readers from all over the world. 20,000 “hits” for my stories here at EDF in one year – how’d it happen?? And to think I didn’t even know how to use the internet four years ago…

  • You took the first step in writing as inspiration dictated, then people identified how talented you are and the word spread. Weblogs have opened up a market that wasn’t there ten years ago and websites like EDF are taking full advantage of this distribution method. Weblogs, Podcasts & vlogs are certainly changing the way that people offer fiction and non-fiction, benefiting writers that would have otherwise been overlooked by the traditional market.

  • Thank you, Dianne, for the kind comments.

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  • J.C. Towler

    “Lolita now ended with the ursine sodomy of Nabokov’s nasty narrator” Ha!

    At a friend’s suggestion I tracked this one down and was throughly delighted. Fun read, Sarah.


  • Thanks, John, I’m glad you tracked it down and that you enjoyed reading.

  • Ha! How did I miss this one before? Great stuff, Sarah 🙂

  • Thanks, Jon! I’m intrigued as to how you found it after all this time.

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  • ***** A joy and a chuckle to read.