[REVIEW] The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman @EccoBooks @sarahw

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.

My rating: 

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Sarah Weinman is the editor of Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s(Library of America) and Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives (Penguin). She covers book publishing for Publishers Marketplace, and has written for the New York Timesthe Washington Postthe New Republicthe Guardian, and Buzzfeed, among other outlets. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Find her on: Website, Twitter and Goodreads.

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20 thoughts on “[REVIEW] The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman @EccoBooks @sarahw

  1. Fantastic review! This book was a 4.5 star read for me too. I really liked how it was done and felt I’d learned so much from it. I’ve read Lolita several times but I still want to read it again because I think I’d see much of it with fresh eyes after reading this with its background on Nabokov’s work.

    I really liked that you pointed out what it seems like a lot of reviewers are complaining about, that this isn’t only a true crime story. As you said, I’m not sure why that was so surprising or dislikable for many readers. I thought the chapters about Nabokov’s work were well done and just as interesting, and she paced it very well so I never got bored with one or the other subject. Even for literary analysis it was so readable! Loved how you addressed that. Great to see your thoughts on this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I know that most people have read Lolita and I fall into the minority group when it comes to that. Like I said I wish I read Lolita before reading this book because I’m sure I’d view it like many people did [that Lolita is the one responsible for Humbert Humbert’s actions]. It would’ve been much more interesting to analyze! I will have to make sure to read Lolita now that I’ve read this book.

      Yes, that bothered me too while reading reviews of it. I don’t get how people expected there to only be the true crime aspect. It clearly says ‘The real LOLITA’ which immediately means that you’ll be reading about Nabokov. I felt like I needed to point that out because for future readers of it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Martie. So it appears that Rust and Stardust is a fictional account of what happened to Sally and as I can see by the synopsis it reimagines her two years spent in La Salle’s captivity. So this book [The Real Lolita] doesn’t fictionalize Sally’s life [although we get descriptions of what Sally must’ve felt like under captivity] instead it compares the crime with the writing of the book Lolita adding bits of Nabokov’s life during the time of the writing of Lolita. Because I haven’t read Rust & Stardust I couldn’t comment any further. I hope this helps!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fab review Nikola. I have also heard of Lolita so I know what it is about but have never read it either. This sounds great and really well written. It would be interesting to find out how it compares to the fictional works.Just found out that there is a film based on Lolita. Really intrigued to read the two books and watch the film.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent review! I really appreciate your recommendation to wait and read “Lolita” first if you don’t want spoilers. That is the exact reason I didn’t request this book despite a LOT of interest in it. I haven’t read “Lolita” yet, and I’d like to read it without anything else informing my interpretation of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I felt that it was important to point that out to future readers. I didn’t mind being spoiled but other people might. I would definitely recommend Lolita and then The Real Lolita!
      ‘ I haven’t read “Lolita” yet, and I’d like to read it without anything else informing my interpretation of it.’ I love the way you said this and definitely agree. I will be looking out for your thoughts on Lolita in the future! Thank you Myndi.

      Liked by 1 person

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