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The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World

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7 Hours and 26 Minutes Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of the most beloved and notorious novels of all time. And yet, very few of its readers know that the subject of the novel was inspired by a real-life case: the 1948 abduction of eleven-year-old Sally Horner. Weaving together suspenseful crime narrative, cultural and social history, and literary investigation, The Real L 7 Hours and 26 Minutes Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of the most beloved and notorious novels of all time. And yet, very few of its readers know that the subject of the novel was inspired by a real-life case: the 1948 abduction of eleven-year-old Sally Horner. Weaving together suspenseful crime narrative, cultural and social history, and literary investigation, The Real Lolita tells Sally Horner’s full story for the very first time. Drawing upon extensive investigations, legal documents, public records, and interviews with remaining relatives, Sarah Weinman uncovers how much Nabokov knew of the Sally Horner case and the efforts he took to disguise that knowledge during the process of writing and publishing Lolita. Sally Horner’s story echoes the stories of countless girls and women who never had the chance to speak for themselves. By diving deeper in the publication history of Lolita and restoring Sally to her rightful place in the lore of the novel’s creation, The Real Lolita casts a new light on the dark inspiration for a modern classic.


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7 Hours and 26 Minutes Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of the most beloved and notorious novels of all time. And yet, very few of its readers know that the subject of the novel was inspired by a real-life case: the 1948 abduction of eleven-year-old Sally Horner. Weaving together suspenseful crime narrative, cultural and social history, and literary investigation, The Real L 7 Hours and 26 Minutes Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of the most beloved and notorious novels of all time. And yet, very few of its readers know that the subject of the novel was inspired by a real-life case: the 1948 abduction of eleven-year-old Sally Horner. Weaving together suspenseful crime narrative, cultural and social history, and literary investigation, The Real Lolita tells Sally Horner’s full story for the very first time. Drawing upon extensive investigations, legal documents, public records, and interviews with remaining relatives, Sarah Weinman uncovers how much Nabokov knew of the Sally Horner case and the efforts he took to disguise that knowledge during the process of writing and publishing Lolita. Sally Horner’s story echoes the stories of countless girls and women who never had the chance to speak for themselves. By diving deeper in the publication history of Lolita and restoring Sally to her rightful place in the lore of the novel’s creation, The Real Lolita casts a new light on the dark inspiration for a modern classic.

30 review for The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World

  1. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    (Note: Unbiased review in exchange for an ARC from Edelweiss.) Robert Frost sees two paths while on a hike, and goes to his desk to write a most famous poem. Should we acknowledge the original influence of the paths, the direct connection between their existence and the poem, or do we think of the poem forever as separate from the reality? That's facetious but it is a distillation of the idea here is at the heart of "The Real Lolita": Where do we see the reality, and to what extend should we credi (Note: Unbiased review in exchange for an ARC from Edelweiss.) Robert Frost sees two paths while on a hike, and goes to his desk to write a most famous poem. Should we acknowledge the original influence of the paths, the direct connection between their existence and the poem, or do we think of the poem forever as separate from the reality? That's facetious but it is a distillation of the idea here is at the heart of "The Real Lolita": Where do we see the reality, and to what extend should we credit it, in our works of art? In the book, the author works through two major storylines side-by-side, the creation of Nabokov's "Lolita" and the real-life story of poor Sally Horner, who was kidnapped and repeatedly raped by a man whose name is better lost to history. Throughout the book, Weinman challenges us to see Sally's story and Sally's reality, not the myth (and grotesque modern fantasy) of a supposedly "alluring" preteen girl. (I cringe from writing that, because as Weinman repeatedly notes, this is a story of child abuse, full stop, and there is nothing alluring whatsoever about it.) Weinman's argument extends to a metaphor alleging Nabokov (and his wife Vera) helped this process of erasing Sally Horner by their insistence on the purely invented nature of "Lolita," springing from his fully-formed without any major, massive contributions from the real-life case. What's good about the book is that Weinman, as noted, is quite clear about the nature of the crimes here. She's an excellent researcher and her interviews, in particular, made me lean in, just because of the high quality of her "gets." She's also thought about contextual crimes against women and children, as stories of other crimes are peppered throughout the book, as well as modern parallels, considering the autobiographies of contemporary young women who were captured by such human vermin as Sally's abductor. What's iffy, and what stops me from going beyond a simple "I liked it" is that the book seems to have a hard time coming together. While the book seems to start on the idea of simply giving Sally back her story, there's also an idea, stated about 3/4 of the way throughout the book, that "Lolita" would not have existed without Sally Horner's recovery, an argument that is later undermined when Weinman concedes Nabokov had a lengthy history of working on a stories regarding the sexual abuse of girls, a history that preceded Sally's abduction. At other moments, the book seems to shift back to claiming that Sally Horner's influence on the text hasn't been acknowledged. (Weinman notes that die-hard readers of "Lolita" don't remember Sally is mentioned in the text.) This feels off to me, because I (not a die-hard reader of "Lolita") knew the connection and even knew Nabokov had mentioned the case in the text. Perhaps the story here is that from the decades since the book was published, we have become more expressive about abuse and have fought back against narratives of shame, so that works discussing that connection would not be particularly surprising? I'm not sure, but I do know that every line emphasizing the need to prove the link between "Lolita" and Sally Horner just struck me as obvious, given Nabokov's specific use of her name in the book. In addition, the book demonstrates a couple of leaps of logic that are just too far to go. For example, the author speculates that Sally's abductor put her in a Catholic school because Catholic schools knew how to cover things up (hinting at the priest sex abuse scandals.) Those revelations were decades away from Sally's lifetime, however, and so can't realistically have been in the abductor's head when he enrolled her in the Catholic school. While I have not researched the topic, it seems to me there are other speculative answers that could be offered without such a leap of logic. (Less need for government paperwork? Cheaper? Ability to start children off in school at different times of the school year? Gender segregation?) To be clear: Normally, I found the author's argument and logic very sound, but moments like these made me wonder if she might be stretching her argument elsewhere. Overall, "The Real Lolita" did make me think and certainly did impress on me the extraordinary bravery of the child, little Sally Horner, who dared to reach for help. While her life ended tragically short, I was left closing the book with the hope that her final days gave her the joy she'd been so long denied.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    As a true crime writer, I loved how Sarah Weinman unearthed a story that inspired so much prurience without engaging in it herself; her Sally Horner is not a footnote or a parenthetical or a caricature of pigtails and lollipops. She is a real girl, the subject rather than the object. Great book, gonna have to read Lolita again for the first time since.... college?

  3. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    A must read for anyone who has ever thought about Lolita. It is a disturbing read in many ways. It examines Lolita as the protagonist of Nabokov’s novel and brings her story to the forefront, absent of HH’s malicious dandification of abuse, considering her heroism and agency. It is also a demand for accountability of the ways that young girls, in life and in fiction, are stripped of their own narratives. It is also amazing how Lolita, the character haunts me. Nabokov considered her and not HH on A must read for anyone who has ever thought about Lolita. It is a disturbing read in many ways. It examines Lolita as the protagonist of Nabokov’s novel and brings her story to the forefront, absent of HH’s malicious dandification of abuse, considering her heroism and agency. It is also a demand for accountability of the ways that young girls, in life and in fiction, are stripped of their own narratives. It is also amazing how Lolita, the character haunts me. Nabokov considered her and not HH one of his greatest characters. Weinman challenges the way readers have been reading Lolita for decades. By confronting us with the real life details of the Sally Horner case, readers can never read Nabokov’s novel in the same way.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    "Knowing about Sally Horner does not diminish Lolita's brilliance, or Nabokov's audacious inventiveness, but it does augment the horror he also captured in the novel." I had not heard of Sally Horner's case prior to coming across The Real Lolita, so I was really looking forward to this book. I was captivated by the heartbreaking beginning of the book - Sally's story is truly tragic, and I was curious about what all happened. Unfortunately, there is just not enough information about Sally to fill "Knowing about Sally Horner does not diminish Lolita's brilliance, or Nabokov's audacious inventiveness, but it does augment the horror he also captured in the novel." I had not heard of Sally Horner's case prior to coming across The Real Lolita, so I was really looking forward to this book. I was captivated by the heartbreaking beginning of the book - Sally's story is truly tragic, and I was curious about what all happened. Unfortunately, there is just not enough information about Sally to fill a book, even though the author did her best. This is the second true crime book I've read this year that really should not have become a book - in both of them, an absurd amount of filler was added in order to pad out the rest of the book. Only about half of this book was even about Sally - so much of it was speculation & then details about Nabokov. Clearly Nabokov knew about Sally since he mentions her in Lolita, yet a fair amount of the book is spent trying to prove that Lolita is directly based on Sally's story & trying to find out just when Nabokov found out about her. It felt very unnecessary. I don't care when Nabokov found out about Sally because it was obvious that he did - the timing doesn't matter. I also felt like part of the purpose of the book was to argue that Lolita is problematic. I really don't need someone else to tell me that, and I wouldn't have picked this book up if I knew so much time was going to be focused on Nabokov and Lolita. It ended up feeling like a college paper, which is definitely not what I was hoping for with this book. There was a lot of reaching, and even my final copy could have used more editing. This book could have been an awesome essay or article, but the real story was smothered by unnecessary details & speculation.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Scored this beauty at BookExpo from the super talented Sarah Weinman. Picked it up and could not put it down. Absolutely riveting.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Myrna

    After Reading Rust and Stardust, I looked for information about the real Sally Horner only to find very few details. Then, with perfect timing, this book came out. In this book, Weinman, drew from extensive research: interviews, in-person visits to the places that Horner lived, reportings on the kidnapping, rescue, and trial, court documents, and Nabokov’s papers. The author did throw in some some logical speculation in a few spots, though. Unfortunately, only half the book is about Sally. I can After Reading Rust and Stardust, I looked for information about the real Sally Horner only to find very few details. Then, with perfect timing, this book came out. In this book, Weinman, drew from extensive research: interviews, in-person visits to the places that Horner lived, reportings on the kidnapping, rescue, and trial, court documents, and Nabokov’s papers. The author did throw in some some logical speculation in a few spots, though. Unfortunately, only half the book is about Sally. I can see why - many of the people and places are gone now. The other half is about Nabokov’s writing process, his life, and the parallels of his book to Sally’s tragic ordeal although he denied that Lolita was inspired by the case. I think it’s a good read for anyone that has thought or read Lolita or Rust and Stardust. I’ve never personally read Lolita but plan to do so in the near future. I’m glad the victim, Sally, is being remembered 60+ years later as “it is the story of so many girls and women, not just in America, but everywhere.” 3.5★s

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kaylie (shihtzus.and.book.reviews)

    I really enjoyed reading the story of Sally Horner, the girl who experienced more tragedy than any person deserves. From the chilling abduction, the character analysis of the creep that took her, and the short remainder of her life, I definitely believe her story is meant to be shared - both cautionary and in memory. I also really enjoyed reading about how Lolita, The highly controversial novel, came to be. I haven’t personally read it (and in an effort to be transparent, I must admit that I pro I really enjoyed reading the story of Sally Horner, the girl who experienced more tragedy than any person deserves. From the chilling abduction, the character analysis of the creep that took her, and the short remainder of her life, I definitely believe her story is meant to be shared - both cautionary and in memory. I also really enjoyed reading about how Lolita, The highly controversial novel, came to be. I haven’t personally read it (and in an effort to be transparent, I must admit that I probably won’t read it for quite some time - if ever) but I’m well aware of the premise and I felt as though I could still enjoy this book without having intimate knowledge of the other. Many thanks to Flyleaf Books for providing me with a review copy! All thoughts are my own.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Susan Grodsky

    I haven't finished this book, but since Goodreads won't let me write my review until I've marked the book as finished, I will do so. I'm not abandoning this book. I am interested enough to read to the last page. But I'll be skimming rather than reading. I read this book for the JCC book festival. I will recommend that we not include it. It's not a terrible book, but the only Jewish content is that the author is Jewish. That's not enough when the book itself is only mediocre. Here's what I'd like to I haven't finished this book, but since Goodreads won't let me write my review until I've marked the book as finished, I will do so. I'm not abandoning this book. I am interested enough to read to the last page. But I'll be skimming rather than reading. I read this book for the JCC book festival. I will recommend that we not include it. It's not a terrible book, but the only Jewish content is that the author is Jewish. That's not enough when the book itself is only mediocre. Here's what I'd like to say to the author. Sarah, you found a really interesting topic. Everyone knows "Lolita", but few people know that this true crime story inspired the author, Vladimir Nabokov. But admit it, Sarah. You had enough information for a magazine article. Stretching it out to book-length means padding. We don't need to know the frustrations you encountered researching this under-documented event. We don't need to know your speculations about Sarah's state of mind as you walked her Baltimore neighborhood. And we would appreciate more muscular, more evocative writing. Your meandering narrative is worsened by your awkward style. By sentences like this: "That his date, a man with whom he'd been in the midst of weeks long affair, stood him up was indignity enough."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    It’s probably been 20 years since I read Lolita and I remember very little about it; it’s one of those things I keep feeling I should reread but am really not quite sure if I can stomach it. This is true-crime-meets-literary-criticism, exploring the connections between the real-life kidnapping of Sally Horner in the late 1940s and Nabokov’s most famous work. Nabokov never admitted to basing his novel on any story in particular (and indeed, he was working on the novel before learning of Horner’s It’s probably been 20 years since I read Lolita and I remember very little about it; it’s one of those things I keep feeling I should reread but am really not quite sure if I can stomach it. This is true-crime-meets-literary-criticism, exploring the connections between the real-life kidnapping of Sally Horner in the late 1940s and Nabokov’s most famous work. Nabokov never admitted to basing his novel on any story in particular (and indeed, he was working on the novel before learning of Horner’s abduction) but the author makes a compelling case that Horner’s kidnapping by pedophile Frank LaSalle heavily influenced the book. The writing is slightly uneven and the author veers into somewhat Pattersonian sentence fragments from time to time, which always puts me off a little, but overall this is a well-written and clearly well-researched book that kept me turning pages. ARC received from publisher at Book Expo.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Hager

    Everyone's heard of Lolita, even if they haven't read the book or seen one of the movies. We all know what people mean when they refer to someone as "Lolita," right? When Amy Fisher shot her boyfriend's wife, she was even dubbed the "Long Island Lolita" in the press. But what generally ISN'T discussed is the fact that Lolita is actually a victim (it isn't even her name; it's what her stepfather and rapist calls her) and we also don't hear that she's based on a real person. Sally Horner is also th Everyone's heard of Lolita, even if they haven't read the book or seen one of the movies. We all know what people mean when they refer to someone as "Lolita," right? When Amy Fisher shot her boyfriend's wife, she was even dubbed the "Long Island Lolita" in the press. But what generally ISN'T discussed is the fact that Lolita is actually a victim (it isn't even her name; it's what her stepfather and rapist calls her) and we also don't hear that she's based on a real person. Sally Horner is also the suspect of a YA novel (Rust and Stardust) and I would recommend both books. The novel focuses on Sally and her family; this focuses on Sally, obviously, but shows the parallels between her life and Lolita. Both are amazing books and both show a full picture of Sally.  And both are also tragedies. Sally survived this horrific ordeal and died only a couple years after getting to return home to her family.  This book is so well researched and you can feel Sarah Weinman's passion about the topic. It's impossible to forget that Sally Horner is a real person, with people who loved her and missed her and searched for her.  Highly recommended.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nikola

    4.5 stars You can also find this review on my book blog. Prior to reading The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman I was familiar with Nabokov’s Lolita but haven’t read it so keep in mind that these thoughts come form someone who hasn’t read Lolita. What initially drew me to The Real Lolita was the true-crime aspect of it and the parallel between the Sally Horner case and Lolita was a big plus as well. The Real Lolita is a true-crime book focused on the kidnapping of an eleven year old girl named Sally H 4.5 stars You can also find this review on my book blog. Prior to reading The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman I was familiar with Nabokov’s Lolita but haven’t read it so keep in mind that these thoughts come form someone who hasn’t read Lolita. What initially drew me to The Real Lolita was the true-crime aspect of it and the parallel between the Sally Horner case and Lolita was a big plus as well. The Real Lolita is a true-crime book focused on the kidnapping of an eleven year old girl named Sally Horner in 1948 by a man who posed as an FBI agent in order to deceive Sally into going with him. The happenings in Lolita as well as the kidnapping are connected and Weinman [the author] within this book explains the connection between the two. From the first few chapters we are introduced to the story of Sally’s kidnapping which is quite chilling and disturbing. It reads like fiction and it’s hard to believe it’s not. When you pass one hundred pages you will notice that a lot of research went into this book and I really appreciated that while reading. The book feels like an essay or a thesis defending the subject matter at hand since we do not have actual proof [in verbal form or written] that the Sally Horner case inspired Lolita. I have seen some reviews complaining that the book mainly focuses on Nabokov and his life but I would disagree and say that fair amount of chapters discuss both subjects presented to the reader. As the book title clearly says ‘The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World’ you should expect Nabokov’s origin story and analysis of early influences prior to the writing of Lolita. Weinman discusses many things and focuses on certain characters whose stories I found unnecessary although some were interesting. I want to go back to the book ‘feeling like a thesis’, Weinman discusses and shows [in a form of a handwritten note] that Nabokov knew about the Sally Horner case before the publication of Lolita but there is mystery around what exactly inspired his master novel Lolita. I would also like to discuss the cover of the book which is absolutely brilliant and showcases the book in the most perfect way. The picture is of Sally Horner on the phone with her family after being rescued – you can see the excitement in her eyes because after twenty-one months of being apart from her family she’s talking to them – and the butterflies which are a connection to Nabokov who had a passion for butterflies. In the book, Weinman points that she’s not the first person to discover the connection between Sally and Lolita because before her we had Peter Welding who wrote an article about it in a paper called Nuggets and we have a Nabokovian scholar called Alexander Dolinin who discussed the parallel between the two as well. Weinman also points out where both went wrong and corrects their mistakes by shining light on Sally Horner who, first, was a victim of a lunatic called Frank La Salle and then an inspiration for the well-known novel by Vladimir Nabokov. What particularly fascinated me was the fact that after several decades people didn’t realise that the character Dolores Haze aka Lolita is a victim of abuse and not someone to be blamed for it. I honestly wish I read Lolita before reading this book because I might’ve seen it as something that it’s not. Now, there are many things I didn’t discuss that are in this book because this review would’ve been very long but I tried my best to share key points. Although I was familiar with Lolita and what it dealt with [a relationship between an older man and an underage girl] I did get spoiled when it came to certain happenings in the book so if you are someone who doesn’t like to get spoiled I suggest you pick up a copy of Lolita and then get The Real Lolita so you can compare both. I would like to thank the publisher Ecco Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and weren’t influenced by anything.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rachael

    The Real Lolita is presented as a detective story with the author uncovering the true case of Sally Horner's kidnapping as the inspiration behind Lolita. Yet, Weinman establishes that Lolita was begun before Sally Horner was kidnapped, so even if Sally's case helped shaped Lolita into the story it became, Sally was not the original inspiration. Perhaps it's because I grew up in the "ripped from the headlines" generation, but I was not convinced that it matters how much of Lolita was built from t The Real Lolita is presented as a detective story with the author uncovering the true case of Sally Horner's kidnapping as the inspiration behind Lolita. Yet, Weinman establishes that Lolita was begun before Sally Horner was kidnapped, so even if Sally's case helped shaped Lolita into the story it became, Sally was not the original inspiration. Perhaps it's because I grew up in the "ripped from the headlines" generation, but I was not convinced that it matters how much of Lolita was built from true life cases. Weinman's book does, however, give Sally Horner a voice and helps transform her story from one of complicity (she was called a slut by classmates after her rescue) to one of victimization and bravery. Part of me also wonders, though, whether Sally would have wanted such a public story if she had lived. Weinman refers multiple times to the fact that Sally's story was told widely at the time and Sally had no ability to maintain her own privacy. Does The Real Lolita give Sally a voice or is it one more way that her own story was stolen from her and shaped by a time and people she never knew?

  13. 5 out of 5

    leslye

    So this was basically "true crime meets classic literature." Vladimir Nabokov refused to admit his novel was based on a real child's tragedy. Author Sarah Weinman doesn't want us to forget. She argues that the character of Lolita was inspired by the tragic case of Sally Horner in 1948. Horner was an 11 yr-old who was kidnapped by a man named Frank LaSalle. He told Sally he was an FBI agent, when in fact he was a mechanic with multiple rape convictions. Over the next two years he repeatedly abuse So this was basically "true crime meets classic literature." Vladimir Nabokov refused to admit his novel was based on a real child's tragedy. Author Sarah Weinman doesn't want us to forget. She argues that the character of Lolita was inspired by the tragic case of Sally Horner in 1948. Horner was an 11 yr-old who was kidnapped by a man named Frank LaSalle. He told Sally he was an FBI agent, when in fact he was a mechanic with multiple rape convictions. Over the next two years he repeatedly abused his victim before she finally escaped. The author simultaneously details Sally's history while laying out evidence that Nabokov used her story for his "Lolita". Weinman does make a convincing case. And though somewhat interesting, I was surprised at how much of this book was the author's musings about Nabokov. The Nabokov sections I found a bit boring. I just didn't care that much about the writer's life and how it may have been connected. Perhaps Nabokov fans will enjoy this book more, but I'd be reluctant to recommend it to "true crime" readers. There just wasn't enough information about Sally Horner to fill a book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alexa

    The Real Lolita is a literary investigation surrounding two things. One, the murder of Sally Horner and the life of the writer of Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov. I have yet to read Lolita for, I think, for obvious reasons however... Review: http://bit.ly/2QUpUUN

  15. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    True crime meets literary mystery. There’s no mystery to the horrifying crime: middle-aged Frank La Salle plead guilty to kidnapping 11 year old Sally Horner and basically keeping her prisoner for nearly two years before she used a neighbor’s phone to call for help. The mystery is how much Nabakov, who name-drops Horner and LaSalle in Lolita, knew about the crime and how much it inspired the classic novel. This is a compelling, interesting, tragic and occasionally infuriating story. It’s well-to True crime meets literary mystery. There’s no mystery to the horrifying crime: middle-aged Frank La Salle plead guilty to kidnapping 11 year old Sally Horner and basically keeping her prisoner for nearly two years before she used a neighbor’s phone to call for help. The mystery is how much Nabakov, who name-drops Horner and LaSalle in Lolita, knew about the crime and how much it inspired the classic novel. This is a compelling, interesting, tragic and occasionally infuriating story. It’s well-told, although there are a few digressions that seem unnecessary (do we really need a whole chapter on an mostly unrelated crime that occurred in the same place and time?) and it can be a challenge to keep all the players straight (a problem I often have with narrative nonfiction). Definitely a good choice for both long time true crime readers and for people who read I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK and want to know where to go next.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    The Real Lolita is a true crime novel that tells the story of the abduction of 11 year old Sally Horner by the much older Frank La Salle, and how this case influenced Vladimir Nabokov while he was writing the novel that would eventually become Lolita. It is a quick and interesting read, and I think it serves as an excellent companion piece to Lolita. Knowing Sally Horner's story as the victim of a child rapist is protection from Humbert's story of Lolita as the nymphet. Both topics (Horner and N The Real Lolita is a true crime novel that tells the story of the abduction of 11 year old Sally Horner by the much older Frank La Salle, and how this case influenced Vladimir Nabokov while he was writing the novel that would eventually become Lolita. It is a quick and interesting read, and I think it serves as an excellent companion piece to Lolita. Knowing Sally Horner's story as the victim of a child rapist is protection from Humbert's story of Lolita as the nymphet. Both topics (Horner and Nabokov) are well-researched, so while this is a true crime novel it will also appeal to those looking to learn more about Nabokov or those readers who want to delve a bit deeper into the novel Lolita.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Minnock

    This is a tough one to review. Weinman's research is incredibly thorough, the links between the real life story of Sally Horner and Nabokov's fictional character Lolita are clear, although in a couple of parts it feels as though Weinman is making her own assumptions. I didn't love it, I also didn't dislike it, but it was certainly an interesting read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte

    This was both a true crime story, and a discussion of how Lolita came to be written; both were interesting enough, but I never felt they quite came together; I think it could have benefited from a larger, perhaps sociologically oriented, framework binding the two stories more tightly.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    The real Lolita, Sally Horner, survived a nightmarish ordeal. So have many many other young women. A necessary reminder of what Nabokov's story is really about. Lest its glamour seduce us into forgetting.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alyse Thompson

    Fast-paced, well researched and weaves together the stories of Sally Horner, Nabokov and other characters well. I did not enjoy the occasions in which the author interjected herself into the story, interrupting the flowing narrative. Nonetheless, still worth the read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    As someone who has read "Lolita" three times and appreciated it despite hating the subject matter, I can not recommend this book enough. This book is many things: An analysis of Nabokov's novel and it's themes/morals/etc., an exploration into the minds of Vladimir and Vera Nabokov before and after the novel's creation & publication, and a cultural history of "Lolita" and how it was viewed by critics and the wider populace and how it shaped public perception of similar criminal scenarios. Howev As someone who has read "Lolita" three times and appreciated it despite hating the subject matter, I can not recommend this book enough. This book is many things: An analysis of Nabokov's novel and it's themes/morals/etc., an exploration into the minds of Vladimir and Vera Nabokov before and after the novel's creation & publication, and a cultural history of "Lolita" and how it was viewed by critics and the wider populace and how it shaped public perception of similar criminal scenarios. However, most importantly, it is the wider, sinister story of a real girl who was abducted, kept captive, and abused for nearly two years. The author also makes the important point towards the end of "The Real Lolita": that both Mr. and Mrs. Nabokov were secretly surprised and appalled at the people calling "Lolita" a love story rather than a story of abuse, and the subsequent open sexualization and victim-blaming of children that pervaded in world-wide pop culture as a result. Vladimir and Vera both admired and spoke highly about Lolita's character and lowly of Humbert's, yet Dolores is viewed in popular culture not as the victim she is, but as a young, doe-eyed temptress. To anyone interested in cultural histories, true crime, classic literature, biographies, or pop culture, I highly recommend this book. Everyone of a certain age should read it, even if they never read the novel.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sonya

    Three and a half stars. Overall, I was moved by the chronology of the life and death of Sally Horner and how her story may have influenced a major literary treasure in Nabokov's novel. I'm not sure the import of Nabokov's denial of influence of the Horner story on Lolita is as strong as this exploration in the book asserts, however. Maybe it was a conscious choice to deny the real-life case as pivotal to the novel (even though the case is actually named in the novel itself) or maybe it was repre Three and a half stars. Overall, I was moved by the chronology of the life and death of Sally Horner and how her story may have influenced a major literary treasure in Nabokov's novel. I'm not sure the import of Nabokov's denial of influence of the Horner story on Lolita is as strong as this exploration in the book asserts, however. Maybe it was a conscious choice to deny the real-life case as pivotal to the novel (even though the case is actually named in the novel itself) or maybe it was repression. I'm not sure it matters all that much so many decades after the fact. But there is a tie to this old novel to the current climate of speaking out. It's odd because just as I was reading this history, a #MeToo villain wrote a self-pitying essay in Harper's about his "exile" after being exposed as an abusive and inappropriate jerk, and he has the gall to liken his own plight to that of the fictional "Lolita," rather than the predator Humbert Humbert. He remains clueless and I remain repulsed by his pathetic appeal to "romance." Bleh.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jamie Canaves

    True Crime Meets Literary Criticism If you’re a fan of true crime and literary theory/criticism, this investigation into how Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was most likely based on a real life case is really interesting. It’s a heartbreaking look into the real kidnapping and sexual abuse that eleven-year-old Sally Horner experienced in the late 1940s but her chapters are written with care by Weinman who focused on the facts that she was able to acquire through research and interviews while focusing o True Crime Meets Literary Criticism If you’re a fan of true crime and literary theory/criticism, this investigation into how Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was most likely based on a real life case is really interesting. It’s a heartbreaking look into the real kidnapping and sexual abuse that eleven-year-old Sally Horner experienced in the late 1940s but her chapters are written with care by Weinman who focused on the facts that she was able to acquire through research and interviews while focusing on Sally and her family. Nabokov’s chapters take you into his life as he immigrated to America, worked on writing Lolita, and the serious overlap between the fictional novel and Sally Horner’s case. --from Book Riot's Unusual Suspects newsletter: https://link.bookriot.com/view/56a820...

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I received a free copy of The Real Lolita from Edelweiss Plus in exchange for a review! I never heard of Sally Horner and this book proves what a shame that is since her story inspired Lolita. Sarah describes Sally's ordeal of being kidnapped and abused for 2 years and how Nabokov came to learn about her story and used it to shape out Lolita. The author provides hard proof and comparisons that prove Sally's life influenced Lolita. There is bit of speculation and drawing conclusions about the tim I received a free copy of The Real Lolita from Edelweiss Plus in exchange for a review! I never heard of Sally Horner and this book proves what a shame that is since her story inspired Lolita. Sarah describes Sally's ordeal of being kidnapped and abused for 2 years and how Nabokov came to learn about her story and used it to shape out Lolita. The author provides hard proof and comparisons that prove Sally's life influenced Lolita. There is bit of speculation and drawing conclusions about the timeline and actual events that kind of devalue the point of the book. The writing style could have been better and polished more because at times it read like a forced paper someone was assigned to do. Overall The Real Lolita is great if you like true crime or have read Lolita. I especially like that the author explains the misconceptions of Lolita and by comparing that story to Sally's, it can remind people the point of Lolita, but also kinda of messed up that Nabokov used Sally's story without officially admitting it was used and overshadowed experiences of a real girl in Lolita's position.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Sarah Weinman's meticulously researched and enthralling THE REAL LOLITA unearths the untold story of Sally Horner, a real girl who experiences a grueling, horrifying tale that inspired Nabokov's literary classic. Nabokov was not one to dwell on or share the true events that may have influenced his fiction, so, sadly, the Horner case has been buried for decades. This was also due in large part to Horner's own, untimely fate. But thanks to Weinman's diligent and expert sleuthing paired with even-h Sarah Weinman's meticulously researched and enthralling THE REAL LOLITA unearths the untold story of Sally Horner, a real girl who experiences a grueling, horrifying tale that inspired Nabokov's literary classic. Nabokov was not one to dwell on or share the true events that may have influenced his fiction, so, sadly, the Horner case has been buried for decades. This was also due in large part to Horner's own, untimely fate. But thanks to Weinman's diligent and expert sleuthing paired with even-handed and precise prose, the author not only unearths Horner's story, but delivers it to an unsuspecting audience deftly and with verve. At the same time, Weinman doesn't hide from the reader, inserting herself into the narrative humbly but clearly - showcasing the difficulties that come with researching a case that only lives on through records and newspaper clippings, but hints at great pain and tragedy, even before Horner was abducted. THE REAL LOLITA is a powerful, evocative book that arrives at the perfect time in our cultural conversation, showcasing the evil that men do and the consequences of such dark behavior, while also telling the interesting and compulsively readable story of how one of our most beloved literary classics came to be, courtesy of the conflicted and flawed writer who created it. I couldn't put this book down. I loved it so much I read it twice in a very short span, and I'm not a big re-reader. Pre-order this book immediately.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Craig Pittman

    I have never read Vladimir Nabokov's scandalous classic novel "Lolita" because, despite its status as a classic, the subject matter always struck me as particularly icky: A middle-aged sexual predator describes how he scouts out and then violates a 12-year-old girl he refers to as a "nymphet." The fact that it's told from the rapist's point of view reminded me of C. S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters," in which we're lectured on the subject of evil and temptation by one of Satan's own demons. Whil I have never read Vladimir Nabokov's scandalous classic novel "Lolita" because, despite its status as a classic, the subject matter always struck me as particularly icky: A middle-aged sexual predator describes how he scouts out and then violates a 12-year-old girl he refers to as a "nymphet." The fact that it's told from the rapist's point of view reminded me of C. S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters," in which we're lectured on the subject of evil and temptation by one of Satan's own demons. While Nabokov steadfastly denied that he based his novel on an actual crime, literary detective Sarah Weinman makes a convincing case that the life and defilement of the character known as Dolores Haze was built on the foundation of an actual crime, the kidnapping and repeated rape of an 11-year-old girl from New Jersey named Sally Horner. Nabokov's highly unreliable narrator, Humbert Humbert, even makes a passing reference to the case in the novel. Toward the end of “Lolita,” Humbert asks himself in a quick aside, “Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank La Salle, a 50-year-old mechanic, had done to 11-year-old Sally Horner in 1948?” The answer, Weinman says, is a definite yes. Weinman does a masterful job of assembling her evidence, despite running into repeated instances where court records have vanished or witnesses have died. She intercuts between telling the story of the Horner kidnapping -- which made national news when the girl was recovered alive after two years, and her captor captured and imprisoned -- and scenes of Nabokov tinkering with the novel that would become his best-known work. She even makes a convincing case that Nabokov was about to abandon the novel as unworkable until he read about the Horner case. It gave him some fresh ideas for the plot and characters, and he was again off to the races and galloping toward stardom. This is the book whose commercial success allowed him to quit teaching and move to Switzerland to write full-time -- although his wife bemoaned the fact that everyone missed what she felt was the main point of the book, which is how noble and resourceful young Dolores is in dealing with her captor. She also uncovers something new about the Horner case that was so startling that when I read it, I actually said out loud, "WHAT?" That said, "The Real Lolita" juuuust misses being a five-star read because, in the name of scene-setting and explaining the background of law enforcement characters, she throws in some other criminal cases of the day that felt a little too much like she was padding out the book. It's a fairly lean 260 pages, and perhaps she feared that if it fell to below 200, it would feel more like a long magazine piece and not enough like a book. But the reader would have been better served by leaving those things out and focusing entirely on the sad story of Sally Horner and how her tragedy made Nabokov a star. Having read this book, I am now sure I will NEVER read "Lolita." The ick factor has now gone way past 11. But let me let Weinman have the last word here, “Knowing about Sally Horner,” Weinma says, “does not diminish ‘Lolita’s’ brilliance, or Nabokov’s audacious inventiveness, but it does augment the horror he also captured in the novel.”

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    Ugh. I have....a lot of problems with this book. First of all, it takes what I think is a worthwhile and unexplored topic (the story of Sally Horner) and stretches it so thin that ultimately it reads like an undergrad paper where you are desperately trying to make word count. I'd read an excerpt of the book previous to this in NY Mag first, which led me to wanting to read the full thing - it would be far more suited as a longform piece that gets into her very real and very tragic tale, framed by Ugh. I have....a lot of problems with this book. First of all, it takes what I think is a worthwhile and unexplored topic (the story of Sally Horner) and stretches it so thin that ultimately it reads like an undergrad paper where you are desperately trying to make word count. I'd read an excerpt of the book previous to this in NY Mag first, which led me to wanting to read the full thing - it would be far more suited as a longform piece that gets into her very real and very tragic tale, framed by how there was the brief mention of the case in Lolita, and what similarities do and do not exist. But this...it actually feels like it diminishes her story since the book turns into this "I know better than Nabokov about his own intentions" weirdly toned piece. Weinman constantly undercuts her own thesis near the end when she's essentially trying to say that Nabokov was obsessed with the Horner case and Lolita wouldn't exist without it; by including things that Nabokov and his own wife said about it and how he researched many cases like it and it wasn't the sole inspiration, including his literary preoccupation with showing how men victimize young women, making broad statements about how most people read Lolita and the character of Dolores while seemingly missing the point. Since within Lolita it actually mentions her case by name, I don't know how that....erases her story. Which is a story that should be explored! This was just really not the way to do so, since, once again, Sally Horner isn't the focus of her own story.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Thank you Penguin Random House Canada for an e-ARC of The Real Lolita for review. The parts of the book about Sally Horner were very interesting and the true crime book I was hoping to read. Unfortunately, I found they were a lot less than I wanted. A lot of this book is about the author of Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov and when and how he may have learned about Sally’s story and if he used it as inspiration or not. If you are looking for a book about the author with a little true crime about a case Thank you Penguin Random House Canada for an e-ARC of The Real Lolita for review. The parts of the book about Sally Horner were very interesting and the true crime book I was hoping to read. Unfortunately, I found they were a lot less than I wanted. A lot of this book is about the author of Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov and when and how he may have learned about Sally’s story and if he used it as inspiration or not. If you are looking for a book about the author with a little true crime about a case that may or may not have inspired it, this may be a good fit for you. I was hoping for more true crime and have never actually read Lolita or anything by Nabokov so I skimmed almost all of that part.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Monika

    This was a really interesting blend of true crime and literary criticism. I think I would have liked a little more the criticism, but the book still came together quite well. The Real Lolita was deeply upsetting, but highly readable and mostly difficult to put down. My only complaint is that Weinman seems to lose focus around halfway through. The book started out quite balanced, in regards to the alternations between chapters on Horner and Lolita. Eventually the chapters on Lolita and Nabokov be This was a really interesting blend of true crime and literary criticism. I think I would have liked a little more the criticism, but the book still came together quite well. The Real Lolita was deeply upsetting, but highly readable and mostly difficult to put down. My only complaint is that Weinman seems to lose focus around halfway through. The book started out quite balanced, in regards to the alternations between chapters on Horner and Lolita. Eventually the chapters on Lolita and Nabokov became a little too far apart. Otherwise, this was still a very well researched and written book, and I would recommend it to anyone who has read and continues to be haunted by Lolita. Special thanks to NetGalley for the ARC! The Real Lolita comes out on September 11.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Melinda

    Several years before Vladimir Nabokov published Lolita, 11 year old Sally Horner of Camden, New Jersey, was abducted by a middle-aged man who for the next two years posed as her father while traveling the country and repeatedly raping her. Though her ordeal ended in 1950 just about the time the writing of Lolita began, Nabokov always maintained that Horner was not her inspiration. The author shows the similarities between the novel and this case. The Real Lolita was a fascinating intertwined acc Several years before Vladimir Nabokov published Lolita, 11 year old Sally Horner of Camden, New Jersey, was abducted by a middle-aged man who for the next two years posed as her father while traveling the country and repeatedly raping her. Though her ordeal ended in 1950 just about the time the writing of Lolita began, Nabokov always maintained that Horner was not her inspiration. The author shows the similarities between the novel and this case. The Real Lolita was a fascinating intertwined account of a notorious abduction and the creation of one of the 20th century's greatest novels.

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