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Nabokov's "Pale Fire": The Magic of Artistic Discovery (edition 2001)
by Brian Boyd
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0691089574, Paperback)Brian Boyd has already chronicled the life of Vladimir Nabokov in two superlative volumes, one devoted to the author's silver-age youth in Russia and the other to his American maturity. Now Boyd turns his attention to the great enchanter's trickiest and most unlikely triumph in Nabokov's Pale Fire. With its oddball structure--which shackles an epic poem in heroic couplets to an increasingly loony, enveloping commentary--this 1962 novel has always been a bone of contention among diehard fans. Some consider it less a work of art than a Rube Goldberg contraption, onto which Nabokov has brilliantly bolted his favorite motifs. Others call Pale Fire the author's true masterpiece, and Brian Boyd falls quite emphatically into the latter camp, arguing that the book is no mere satire on literary parasitism:
It is a reflection on the whole history of literature, on the shift from romance to realism, from the old kind of hero with whose glory the reader is invited to identify ... to the modern image of everyman as artist, the suburban Shade, in the modest circumstances of the real, coping with courage and self-control, with imagination, curiosity, tenderness, and kindness, with the fact of his mortality and his losses past and still to come.Boyd's study is at once a shrewd and eloquent guidebook to the intricacies of Pale Fire and a revisionist argument as to its meaning. After all, Nabokovians have spent the last three decades feuding over the ultimate authorship of this double-decker narrative: could the poet, John Shade, have created both the poem and commentary? Or should both be chalked up to that nutty exegete Charles Kinbote? As he wades into this factional war, Boyd can sometimes appear only nominally less insane than Kinbote. ("The prominence of the Shadean or Kinbotean or 'undecidable' readings had not gone unchallenged. D. Barton Johnson, attending to verbal and subverbal detail, stood largely outside the Shade-Kinbote opposition when he focused on the Botkin behind Kinbote." Help!) Yet his hypothesis--which involves a ghost feeding lines to the living like a posthumous Teleprompter--makes perfect sense. And it reminds us that for all Nabokov's vaunted irony and scientific passion, he was fascinated throughout his entire career by the afterlife. Volodya as theologian? Boyd is smart and persuasive enough to make the concept stick, and to send every last one of us back to Pale Fire--immediately. --James Marcus
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:30 -0400)
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