Book review: The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World — by Sarah Weinman

(Ecco Press)
This is the story of how Florence “Sally” Horner, a fifth-grade honor student, was targeted and manipulated by Frank La Salle, the man who kidnapped her and held her for years, and how her true story became the inspiration Vladimir Nabokov needed to complete his most noted novel, “Lolita.” It was the news of Sally’s death in 1952 and the details that emerged that enabled Nabokov to finish this oft-abandoned novel, one he had struggled with for more than a decade. In fact, he specifically alludes to the case in chapter 33 of “Lolita:” “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?” This claim has been circulated previously, but Weinman points out even more similarities in events and descriptions. But this book also uncovers the habits and tactics of child molestors, and the empathy extended to the young victim is palpable. Daunting as it was to the author to write about Vladimir Nabokov, it is admirable the way she weaves the strands of a fascinating literary biography into a crime story. “The Real Lolita” is an intricate and illuminating piece of investigative reporting.
— Reviewed by Jenny Lyons of The Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury.
9 Dark fiction inspired by true stories
Room, by Emma Donoghue
Black Water, by Joyce Carol Oates
Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan
Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate
See What I Have Done, by Sarah Schmidt
The Good People, by Hannah Kent
Fever, by Mary Beth Keane

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