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

book review

Lolita has been on my TBR for years, but I haven’t read it because I know it’s going to be a tough read. And, honestly, I questioned whether it was something I really wanted to read, or if I just put it on my TBR because it’s famous. But when I learned that such a controversial novel is based on a true story, I knew I had to read the book about that true story. Enter, The Real Lolita.

(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)


The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World(From Goodreads) A gripping true-crime investigation of the 1948 abduction of Sally Horner and how it inspired Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel, Lolita

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of the most beloved and notorious novels of all time. And yet very few of its readers know that the subject of the novel was inspired by a real-life case: the 1948 abduction of eleven-year-old Sally Horner.

Weaving together suspenseful crime narrative, cultural and social history, and literary investigation, The Real Lolita tells Sally Horner’s full story for the very first time. Drawing upon extensive investigations, legal documents, public records, and interviews with remaining relatives, Sarah Weinman uncovers how much Nabokov knew of the Sally Horner case and the efforts he took to disguise that knowledge during the process of writing and publishing Lolita.

Sally Horner’s story echoes the stories of countless girls and women who never had the chance to speak for themselves. By diving deeper in the publication history of Lolita and restoring Sally to her rightful place in the lore of the novel’s creation, The Real Lolita casts a new light on the dark inspiration for a modern classic.


I am not at all surprised that I was attracted to this book. I am developing a taste for true crime books (I’ve read three this year already), and was immediately interested in the real story that inspired one of the most famous and controversial books of all time. So I couldn’t not read this, right?

The thing that stood out to me most while I was reading (actually, listening to) The Real Lolita is how incredibly well-researched it is, both in terms of the real events surrounding the kidnapping of Sally Horner and how Nabokov came to draw inspiration from Sally’s story and come up with Lolita. Her research made for a comprehensive book that, surprisingly, didn’t really leave me with any lingering questions. If anything, I am curious to find out more about what was really going through the minds of the people involved, but that’s impossible to tell. They’re all gone now, and none of them gave much away while they were alive.

I thought this book was really well-written. I found the writing unobtrusive – which is all I really want in nonfiction – but still interesting. It was occasionally a bit jarring to switch back and forth between Sally Horner and Vladimir Nabokov, but I did like that it alternated, because I think it made the book a bit more engrossing. Another huge plus (in my book): The Real Lolita was thorough without being overly long. Overall, I thought it was a really good book, and I am so glad I picked this up! I would definitely read more by Sarah Weinman in the future.


★★★★☆ – I thought The Real Lolita was a great take on a fascinating story. If you’re curious about the real stories behind Lolita – both the crime that inspired it and how Nabokov came to use it at inspiration – I would definitely recommend this book!

The Real Lolita is available on bookstores now – you can pick up a copy on Amazon!

To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose The Real Lolita as one of your two free books. (I listened to the audiobook of this one, and really enjoyed it!)

*This post contains affiliate links, which means I may get a small commission for purchases made through this post.*

8 thoughts on “Book Review | The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World

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