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.
**I am in no way compensated by these sites. I am simply sharing it so people can find this book easier.
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 Times, the Washington Post, the New Republic, the Guardian, and Buzzfeed, among other outlets. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.