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

20 years ago I was on jury duty for a murder and found myself in a room full of people I did not know. But 4 weeks later, I realized there were many connections only one degree away from me in the past and in the future. This book is like that. It has so many twists and turns that kept me glued to the pages. The chapters are short and concise, and the book is only 258 pages, but it tells of a larger world out there.

On social media (and in person), Lolita is the book that will always start a feud. The sides couldn’t be more diametrically opposed: the ones who have read it and think the prose and complex story justify it as a top contender for the Great American Novel. And then, the ones who haven’t read it (or only started it) because of its graphic content. The latter have been spoiled by what TV, songs and magazines have done to the book. But that book (LOLITA) is another story for another day.

I think both sides could come to understand each other better with this book. Although Nabokov had started his book many years before the true story of little Sally Horner, he does use many things from her story. And her story is remarkable. She may be the strongest survivor I have ever known about. But she didn’t survive long. Like Lolita, both died an early tragic death, but much differently. Sally was kidnapped at age 11 and she was nothing like the Lolita in the two movies or even like Humbert Humbert’s version of her in the book.

In a Hitchcock-like move, Sally actually makes a cameo appearance in the novel. But he does it so well, like Hitch, it goes right by most of the readers. And re-readers. But he does name her and the man who abducted and raped her numerous times.  He says, “Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank LaSalle, a fifty-year-old mechanic, had done to eleven-year-old Sally Horner in 1948?”

And we have the story as told by the child rapist. Thus, we are duped in (in varying degrees) by the smooth talker Humbert Humbert is. Nabokov personally knew a child rapist who was a professor at Stanford University. And he was a smooth talker. So we can’t trust everything we are told by the dead narrator. But what a device Unreliable Narrator is! It allows the reader to forget what a creep he really is.

The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World, investigates just how much and when Nabokov knew about the Horner case. It also gives Sally her due justice. Everyone should know about her in America as much as we know about Anne Frank. I think the Novel should be read to gain knowledge into these horrible crimes that continue to this day. I admit, there were a few times that I had to lay this book down because I wasn’t strong enough to handle her story. But after a few days away, I felt that I owed it to Sally to finish. I feel you do too.

This is one of the best true crime books that I have read. She investigates everything. She also gives the novel/Nabokov justice. So even if you do not plan to read the novel or you hate the novel, you should still read this book. And if you like the novel, you’ll love this. There are so many people involved in this story and she follows the story of each life until its end.

Reviewed by Tommy at Main

Available in Audiobook, book and LT formats

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