cover image The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World

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

Sarah Weinman. Ecco, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-266192-0

Journalist and editor Weinman (Women Crime Writers) combines literary theory and true crime in this speculative account of the 1948 kidnapping of Sally Horner, an 11-year-old New Jersey girl who Weinman posits was the real-life inspiration for Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel. Sally Horner, like Nabokov’s Dolores Haze, was abducted and taken across state lines by a pedophile who passed himself off as her father in public and abused her in private. Weinman chronicles the details of what is known about Sally’s life during the nearly two years she spent captive with her abductor, Frank La Salle, before recounting her harrowing rescue and La Salle’s trial and conviction for kidnapping. Alongside Sally’s narrative, Weinman looks at Nabokov’s process writing Lolita, which he agonized over for years and twice nearly destroyed. The book includes a few odd digressions and a fair amount of conjecture (“Perhaps Sally wondered why they were going so far out of their way.... Maybe she asked why they had to leave Atlantic City so quickly. Most likely, she kept any complaints or questions to herself”). More poignantly, Weinman argues that Nabokov and his wife, Véra—who served as her husband’s spokesperson and flatly denied the use of Sally’s story as inspiration for his novel—allowed Sally to be eclipsed by her fictional counterpart: Sally’s life had been “strip-mined to produce the bones of Lolita.” Drawing from interviews with relatives of those involved, Nabokov’s personal documents, and court reporting from La Salle’s trial, Weinman tells Sally’s tragic story as it has never been told before, with sensitivity and depth. [em](Sept.) [/em]