Vladimir Nabokov and the Real Lolita

Title: The Real Lolita
Author: Sarah Weinman
Publisher: Ecco
Publication Date: September 11th, 2018
Format: Hardcover
Length: 320 pages

I have never read Lolita or any of Vladimir Nabokov’s other works. I didn’t know Lolita was based on a true story about the abduction of a young girl named Sally Horner in 1948. Around this time, Vladimir Nabokov was working on a novel that he was struggling to finish. Lolita was the novel that was almost not. Nabokov himself was a mysterious author. He didn’t want the real life inspiration he used for the novel to be traced or discussed in scholarly works. He also didn’t want his own life to be written about at length. Nabokov lived through daunting times in history including the Russian revolution and World War II. He certainly had his secrets.

Sarah Weinman bases her book, The Real Lolita, on her own research. She studied Nabokov’s works, writings, letters and diaries. She read the few biographies there on Nabokov and Lolita several times to try and make sense of what Nabokov was trying to say. I enjoy doing research on authors myself so I loved The Real Lolita. There is something fascinating about when an author uses real life stories or experiences in their work.

Weinman’s The Real Lolita focuses mostly on Sally Horner. Horner was kidnapped at the age of 11 in Camden, New Jersey, once considered to be the ideal American town. Now Camden has one of the the highest crime rates in the country. During Horner’s time, child molestation was not commonly discussed or even aware of by many people. When Horner’s mother received the call one afternoon from a man, who identified himself as a parent from Horner’s school inviting her on a family trip to the Atlantic City, she would most likely not have thought it could be a child predator intent to harm her child. The man, Frank La Salle, spied Horner in a department store a few weeks prior. He convinced her he worked with the FBI and would not tell her mom or the police about the notebook she stole from the store if she went with him. He did not take her at this time because she was surrounded by several friends that had dared her to steal the notebook. Instead, he called her mother and convinced her to bring Horner to the bus station. Horner didn’t want to get in trouble so she did as was told. Horner spent 21 months traveling with him around the country as he completely brainwashed her into staying with him. He convinced those living around them that they were father and daughter. A neighbor in Dallas, Texas was suspicious of their relationship. She convinces Horner to confess the true nature of her relationship with La Salle. The neighbor called the authorities for help and Horner was returned to her mother.

Sally Horner, age 9
Photo: Camden County Historical Society

Press releases all over the Northeast are given after Horner is found. Several years later, Horner is involved in a car crash and dies instantly. It is during this time that Vladimir Nabakov is following her story. According to Weinman, he is piecing together Lolita, which becomes a #1 bestseller on the New York Times List in 1958. Nabakov wrote several pieces that involved an adult man with a young female child, with Lolita being the most famous piece he wrote. Lolita is written as a romance novel as are his other works with a similar topic. Instead of seeing Humbert Humbert (Lolita’s captor) as the predator he is, Nabakov seems to encourage readers to have pity on him. One of the primary reasons Weinman conducted her research is to discourage readers from embracing his novel and works that are similar in content.

Weinman wonders why he focuses on this particular topic. After conducting thorough research, she finds that he had affairs with several of his college age students, but does not find any evidence that he abused children. The Real Lolita brings light to Sally Horner’s story and the truth about the cost of abuse done to children.

Five Bookworms (Excellent Read)
Sarah Weinman
Photo: CrimeReads

From the author’s website:

Sarah Weinman is the author of The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World, which was named a Best Book of 2018 by NPR, BuzzFeed, The National PostLiterary Hub, and Vulture, and won the Arthur Ellis Award for Excellence in Crime Writing. She also edited the anthologies Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s (Library of America) and Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives(Penguin).

Weinman, currently a contributing editor and columnist at CrimeReads, has written for the New York TimesVanity Fair, the Washington PostTopic, New York, the New Republicthe Guardian, and Buzzfeed, among other outlets, while her fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and numerous anthologies. Weinman also writes the “Crime Lady” newsletter, covering crime fiction, true crime, and all points in between.

She lives in Brooklyn, New York.


Subscribe to the The Crime Lady newsletter Lady by Sarah Weinman

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s