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Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
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Pale Fire (1962)

by Vladimir Nabokov

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6,281103951 (4.26)1 / 306
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English (98)  French (1)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (103)
Showing 1-5 of 98 (next | show all)

“The summer night was starless and stirless, with distant spasms of silent lightning.”
― Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

Do you enjoy reading the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Lord Byron and William Butler Yates? If so, then Vladimir Nabokov might be your favorite novelist, since this master prose writer's feel for language and precision of words is equal to any of these great poets. However, if you are like most readers of novels, what keeps you turning the pages isn't necessarily the poetic precision of language. Alas, there is still a way for you to enjoy Pale Fire. You can experience the beauty and stunning perfection of Nabokov's language, even if poetry isn't your thing.

Take my word for it here - the audiobook is an entranceway to the novel. Robert Blumenfeld speaks the words of Charles Kinbote with a charming, easy-to-understand international European accent, a mix of French-German-Eastern European. And Marc Vietor reads the John Shade poem. Vietor does a fine job with the poem but Blumenfeld as Kinbote is exceptional, listening to his voice is like listening to a virtuoso harpsichordist performing a baroque score. You will want to listen and listen and listen some more. Order yourself both the book and the audiobook and read and listen concurrently - you will have one of the most rewarding, aesthetically satisfying literary experiences of your life.

Turning to the novel itself, we have Kinbote's forward at the beginning and index at the end, and the actual John Shade poem, entitled Pale Fire, and the extensive Charles Kinbote commentary on the poem, which turns out to be not a commentary in the conventional sense of the term, but a benchmark for a subject of Kinbote's prime interest - his dear distant northern land of Zembla and a subject even more dear to his heart - himself.

Indeed, Charles Kinbote. What a man! Many critical essays could be written (and undoubtedly many have been written) on his character, enough to fill a thick leather-bound volume, but here is one quick observation: he is a study in contrast, a highly erudite man of letter (he might even be a king of an Eastern European country) with an ability to fashion language on the level of Vladimir Nabokov, yet when it comes to interpersonal and social skills, he has a blind spot as large as Kazimir Malevich's black circle.

But I hesitate to make too hasty a judgment, since after reading the novel a second time, my understanding and assessment of Dr. Kinbote is entirely different from my first-time reading. I wouldn't be surprised if I encountered a different Charles Kinbote with each and every future reading. Ah, the richness of this most Nabokovian of Nabokov novels! Below are two quotes taken from Kinbote's commentary, complete with cross-reference notes, to whet your literary pallet and serve as an incentive (I hope) to engage with the high art of Nabokov's novel:

"We shall accompany Gradus in constant thought, as he makes his way from distant dim Zembla to green Appalachia, through the entire length of the poem, following the road of its rhythm, riding past In a rhyme, skidding around the corner of a run-on, breathing with the caesura, swinging down to the foot of the page from line to line as from branch to branch, hiding between two words (see note to line 598), reappearing on the horizon of a new canto, moving up with his valise on the escalator of the pentameter, stepping off, boarding a new train of thought, entering the hall of a hotel, putting out the bedlight, while Shade blots out a word, and falling asleep as the poet lays down his pen for the night."

"How much happier the wide-awake indolents, the monarchs among men, the rich monstrous brains deriving intense enjoyment and rapturous pangs from the balustrade of a terrace at nightfall, from the lights and the lake below, from the distant mountain shapes melting into the dark apricot of the afterglow, from the black conifers outlined against the pale ink of the zenith, and from the garnet and green flounces of the water along the silent, sad, forbidden shoreline."

Reading Vladimir Nabokov can be like playing a game of chess against an international chess master. For certain you will be the one who is checkmated, but, still, you gain a deep satisfaction from playing every move.

( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
It is the mark of genius that most of the world doesn’t get what you are trying to do at all. Such is the case with Nabokov’s Pale Fire, a novel which isn’t really a novel unless you understand that novels exist only because people pushed the boundaries of an art form that, at one time, didn’t exist.

This is no easy read. You start off with a 999-line poem and then move on to a commentary on it which starts focussed and then ends up ranging into the political intrigues of a fictitious nation and an assassination. Whether any of it relates to any of it is open to question, and better minds than mine have been wrecked upon its shores.

What I do know is that I have no clue what it’s about, what Nabokov intended by it, nor what it’s place may or may not be in the literary canon. All I can say is that I read it, I thought the poem had shades of genius, and that the commentary ranged from mildly interesting to downright tedious.

I can however appreciate that it might have literary influence but just how much I’m not willing or able to say. It gets its rating solely from its audacious style and the weight of its legacy. ( )
  arukiyomi | Nov 3, 2018 |
This book is really clever. ( )
  Katie80 | Oct 8, 2018 |
I have no doubt at all that I am Too Dumb for this book, nor did I go back and check/compare all the notes or anything. But I really liked this--it was fun to relish in the form of it, and it was very funny in the way Nabokov usually is. And as the story winds up, it really does suck you in and the narrative is so interesting and tight and self-involved and it's just a really good fun book that I would (and probably have to!) definitely return to for a number of rereads. ( )
  aijmiller | Aug 26, 2018 |
The ending was kind of a let down, I already knew the twist, I doubt Nabokov planned it to be a surprise, but that's not the problem, it lacked something, maybe more emotion, I don't think it was necessary to make it so obvious that Botnik was in fact crazy and all the story was a sham, the specific recalling on how he convinced Gray to lie for example, I don't know, the way it was written it felt forced, like Nabokov really needed to drive the point home and it had to be right now and very clear so nobody gets confused, ok?

Taking that aside I really enjoyed the book, I loved Botnik's cluelessness about things like Sherlock Homes and biclycle-made luminiscates, he was so out of touch with the world, the way he needed to make everything about himself, many times just making a note to a word, not a verse, a word, that would tie nicely to whatever he wanted to say, he interpreted the poetry however it pleased him and had no interest at all really in Shade, just in the idea of him.

I also want to mention that even though there are references to secrets at the beginning I thought they were talking about him being gay or something like that, and in retrospect I can see that it was always about him being the king and I love that, there must be so many things like that that I can't recall now but rereading would surely make me notice.

I loved the book but still I couldn't recommend, except for someone that already likes Nabokov or this type of literature, it's a weird and resembles a puzzle at times and I greatly enjoyed it but it's not an easy read.

More seriously the book one for a kind, an entire novel told in the commentary of a poem, I doubt there are many writers out there that could pull something like this, and with such care, and so beautifully written, there is beauty in the poem, and in the footnotes and it's a very different kind of beauty, they don't sound alike at all, Nabokov didn't pour all he had on the commentary and that's that, no, the poem is also perfectly written, in a way that serves the purpose of the commentary but doesn't have to sacrifice anything and can still be read as a stand alone, the last canto is weak that's true but it's also a work in progress and this shows too, it's amazing. ( )
  Rose98 | Jun 22, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 98 (next | show all)
If the introduction and notes are eccentric, the index is of a similar quality ... Kinbote's index is a symptom of his insanity.
added by KayCliff | editNew Writing 9, Robert Irwin (Dec 12, 2010)
 
The integration of events described in the index into the text of Pale fire clearly qualifies this index as an example of indexes as fiction. The complex trail of cross-references by which the whole book may be alternatively read makes it possible also to regard this novel as an example of fiction as index.
added by KayCliff | editThe Indexer, Hazel K. Bell (Aug 5, 1997)
 
In fact, “Pale Fire” is a curiosity into which it is agreeable to dip rather than a book which can be read straight through with pleasure.
 

» Add other authors (28 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nabokov, Vladimirprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Drews, KristiinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kinbote, CharlesForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rorty, RichardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Verstegen, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Information from the Finnish Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Epigraph
This reminds me of the ludicrous account he gave Mr. Langton, of the despicable state of a young gentleman of good family. "Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats." And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favorite cat, and said, "But, Hodge shan't be shot: no, no, Hodge shall not be shot."

--James Boswell, the Life of Samuel Johnson
Dedication
To Véra
First words
I was the shadow of the waxwing slain / By the false azure in the windowpane.
Pale Fire, a poem in heroic couplets, of nine hundred ninty-nine lines, dividen into four cantos, was composed by Francis John Shade (born July 5, 1898, died July 21, 1959) during the last twenty days of his life, at his residence in New Wye, Appalachia, U.S.A
Pale Fire, a poem in heroic couplets, of nine hundred ninety-nine lines, divided into four cantos, was composed by John Francis Shade (born July 5, 1898, died July 21, 1959) during the last twenty days of his life, at his residence in New Wye, Appalachia, U.S.A.
Quotations
I have no desire to twist and batter an unambiguous apparatus criticus into the monstrous semblance of a novel.
No lips would share the lipstick of her smoke.
Shadows, the, a regicidal organization which commissioned Gradus (q.v.) to assassinate the self-banished king; its leader’s terrible name cannot be mentioned, even in the Index to the obscure work of a scholar; his maternal grandfather, a well-known and very courageous master builder, was hired by Thurgus the Turgid, around 1885, to make certain repairs in his quarters, and soon after that perished, poisoned in the royal kitchens, under mysterious circumstances, together with his three young apprentices whose pretty first names Yan, Yonny, and Angeling, are preserved in a ballad still to be heard in some of our wilder valleys.
I'm puzzled by the difference between / Two methods of composing. A, the kind / Which goes on solely in the poet's mind, / A testing of performing words, while he / Is soaping a third time one leg, and B, / The other kind, much more decorous, when / He's in his study wielding his pen.
Come and be worshiped, come and be caressed, My dark Vanessa, crimson-barred, my blest My Admirable butterfly! Explain. - It is *so* like the heart of a scholar in search of a fond name to pile a butterfly genus upon an Orphic divinity on top of the inevitable allusion to Vanhomrigh, Esther! In this connection a couple of lines from one of Swift's poems (which in these backwoods I cannot locate) have stuck in my memory: When, lo! *Vanessa* in her bloom / Advanced like *Atalanta*'s star.
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Information from the French Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Haiku summary
The curse of the verse!
(Note: this refers to Zembla.)
So: king, or madman?

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679723420, Paperback)

Like Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire is a masterpiece that imprisons us inside the mazelike head of a mad émigré. Yet Pale Fire is more outrageously hilarious, and its narrative convolutions make the earlier book seem as straightforward as a fairy tale. Here's the plot--listen carefully! John Shade is a homebody poet in New Wye, U.S.A. He writes a 999-line poem about his life, and what may lie beyond death. This novel (and seldom has the word seemed so woefully inadequate) consists of both that poem and an extensive commentary on it by the poet's crazy neighbor, Charles Kinbote.

According to this deranged annotator, he had urged Shade to write about his own homeland--the northern kingdom of Zembla. It soon becomes clear that this fabulous locale may well be a figment of Kinbote's colorfully cracked, prismatic imagination. Meanwhile, he manages to twist the poem into an account of Zembla's King Charles--whom he believes himself to be--and the monarch's eventual assassination by the revolutionary Jakob Gradus.

In the course of this dizzying narrative, shots are indeed fired. But it's Shade who takes the hit, enabling Kinbote to steal the dead poet's manuscript and set about annotating it. Is that perfectly clear? By now it should be obvious that Pale Fire is not only a whodunit but a who-wrote-it. There isn't, of course, a single solution. But Nabokov's best biographer, Brian Boyd, has come up with an ingenious suggestion: he argues that Shade is actually guiding Kinbote's mad hand from beyond the grave, nudging him into completing what he'd intended to be a 1,000-line poem. Read this magical, melancholic mystery and see if you agree. --Tim Appelo

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:02 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Nabokov's parody, half poem and half commentary on the poem, deals with the escapades of the deposed king of Zemala in a New England college town.

» see all 7 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141185260, 0141197242

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