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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.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,672116968 (4.25)1 / 320
In Pale Fire Nabokov offers a cornucopia of deceptive pleasures: a 999-line poem by the reclusive genius John Shade; an adoring foreword and commentary by Shade's self-styled Boswell, Dr. Charles Kinbote; a darkly comic novel of suspense, literary idolatry and one-upmanship, and political intrigue.
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English (111)  French (1)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (116)
Showing 1-5 of 111 (next | show all)
To explain this gem of a novel in anything less than five or six pages, single-spaced, is to wildly underestimate what is going on here.

This author, best known for [b:Lolita|7604|Lolita|Vladimir Nabokov|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1377756377s/7604.jpg|1268631], goes well beyond the scope of that novel while displaying his ever precise and gloriously beautiful mastery of the language. Is he one of the best novelists ever? The brightest? The most cunning and crafty and poetical of the lot?

Perhaps. Indeed, likely. Proof, exhibit A: Pale Fire is based on a mostly autobiographical epic poem that he wrote as a character named Shade who died under mysterious circumstances. The man annotating the poem knew him and did, at first, an admirable job of breaking down and scholarly interpreting the work.

Let me say this. The poem is quite funny and evocative and smart as hell. It's also good. Very.

When this editor, this annotator starts on it, he sometimes makes an inappropriate comment or two and I tended to let it slide, thinking it funny and annoying and went back to enjoying the poem. Unfortunately, as the work progresses, this man keeps interrupting the poem in more serious ways, getting nitpicky, more personal, and even vindictive. This aspect of the novel pretty much takes over completely and we learn some VERY interesting aspects of both their lives.

The time is 1959 but the novel was published in '62. For fans of LGBTQ literature, both good and historical, I totally recommend this novel. The way it is handled is both tragic, unique, heartbreaking, and horrible to experience. The times were rather rough on artists and people with non-culturally standard desires. The things the poet did... well... just thrown in there between the lines... *shiver*

As I said, heartbreaking.

The end is like a hat-trick. We are forced to get used to the annotator going whole-hog on the nitpick and the scholarly schtik, so just when I'm almost fed-up, even the annotator breaks down...

And this is the most brilliant aspect of the novel. :)

I'm still reeling. What a glorious thing. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
**Pale Fire** was my second book by *Vladimir Nabokov*, and it curiously resembled the first one (Lolita, naturally): An unreliable narrator, who felt incredibly off-putting, full of himself, and mentally ill. I *do* want to note that the narrator is gay and there is no obvious stigmatisation associated with the fact.

Other than that, wow, what a book. The form is genius, of course: It's a 999 line poem, and the story, such as it is, is told through the commentary by the editor-slash-narrator. So much meta, especially with the narrator being a literary immigrant to the US from a slavic country. (Maybe.) So much meta.
I got a lot of amusement out of imagining the actual commentary to Pale Fire, because Nabokov hit the sometimes-factual-sometimes-condescending tone of literary commentary very well in places. Because, of course, Nabokov is a genius with words, and structure, and cleverness. From a technical perspective, the book is excellent. But it also invoked an unpleasant, even unclean feeling, in ways similar to how Kafka evokes despair very directly. I can appreciate the literary genius and craft involved, but I don't think I'll read more Nabokov in the near future. ( )
  _rixx_ | May 24, 2020 |
I've been so daunted by this book for so long but I love it so much. No one told me it was actually A TRANSCONTINENTAL MURDER MYSTERY featuring REGICIDE! one of my favorite literary tropes. And I forget, when I'm psyching myself out on reading serious books by canonical authors, how funny Vladimir Nabokov can be. Footnote to the word "often" in line 62 begins: "Often, almost nightly, throughout the spring of 1959 I had feared for my life", which for me matches the opening to Joseph Heller's "Something Happened": "In the office in which I work there are five people of whom I am afraid." When people talk about irony like it's a recent invention, or counter-culture as though subversive art and humor don't predate 1960, I always want to mention Vladimir Nabokov and MAD magazine.

When I was rereading Lolita earlier this year I couldn't help but think how perfect a creation and how endlessly entertaining is the unreliable narrator, and I've never read any author that asks so much distrust of his readers than Vladimir Nabokov. That said, he is too beautiful a writer to ever be cynical, too epicurean with words to be a moralist in any other regard:

While snubbing gods, including the big G
Iph borrowed some peripheral debris
From mystic visions; and it offered tips
(The amber spectacles for life's eclipse)-
How not to panic when you're made a ghost:
Sidle and slide, choose a smooth surd, and coast,
Meet solid bodies and glissade right through,
Or let a person circulate through you.
How to locate in blackness, with a gasp
Terra the fair, and orbicle of jasp,
How to keep sane in spiral types of space.
Precautions to be taken in the case
Of freak reincarnation: what to do
On suddenly discovering that you
Are now a young and vulnerable toad
Plump in the middle of a busy road,
Or a bear cup beneath a burning pine,
Or a book mite in a revined divine.

Flipped ahead and I'm really excited about "The Haunted Barn"! ( )
  uncleflannery | May 16, 2020 |
Up until this point in my life, Vladimir Nabokov had been my literary nemesis. Having never read any of his books, I was only familiar with what he had to say about other writers, and I hated every last bit of it. I hated what he had to say about Dostoevsky. I hated what he had to say about Chekhov. I really hated what he had to say about Lermontov, and I really didn't get much out of his thoughts on Kafka, either. To be perfectly honest, when I started to read Pale Fire, I desperately wanted to hate it. I wanted to teach him a lesson (if it's really possible for an anonymous angry guy on the internet to teach a famous dead Russian a lesson) for bluntly dismissing so much of the literature that I've come to appreciate over the past few years.

Unfortunately for me, this was a lot of fun.

You don't have to be insane to tell a good story, but people who do happen to be insane usually spin a good yarn. What I've always loved about the stories crazy people tell is the wild passion with which they are told. Real nuts allow themselves to get carried away and fall in love with the people and places of their stories all over again (whether or not any of it ever happened), and Charles Kinbote is no exception. Throughout his commentary on John Shade's poem, the 999-line Pale Fire in Four Cantos, Kinbote weaves his analysis together with the saga of the former King of Zembla (also named Charles) and his escape from his country after he was overthrown. Much of it reads like a fairy tale (maybe with a bit more sodomy than the usual Grimm brothers fare) and in this context, I really enjoyed that aspect of it. If there's one thing literary criticism could use, it's whimsy.

Shade's poem was also great. I don't read poetry, but this was easy to follow for a novice, even before you read the parts of Kinbote's commentary that actually cover the content of the poem. I'm tempted to think that Nabokov put this whole thing together just to prove how versatile he was, but none of it feels forced or manufactured, and that's incredible for a book like this.

The Wikipedia page for Pale Fire has an "Interpretations" section that I highly encourage you to avoid. Having somebody else, even Nabokov, tell you how you should think about the big questions in the novel ruins half the fun. Is Charles really the king of Zembla? Is Zembla a real place? Is Charles even a real person? Those are questions that shouldn't have definite answers. Enjoy the process of wading through hints and half-hints and don't come to any conclusions just because of what the dumb author said a few years later. The book isn't his anymore.

I'm still getting through my issues with Nabokov, but good writing blows right past personal biases. Give me a story about an assassin with violent diarrhea in a library, and I'll give it a thumbs up. ( )
  bgramman | May 9, 2020 |
I didn't expect Pale Fire to be so goddamn funny. I wasn't rolling off my chair or anything but the acute sense of mania that begins to ramp up from the Introduction onward is quixotic and delightful in a (slightly) melancholic masochism. I was reminded of the sweeping pomposity of Ignatius in A Confederacy of Dunces, at times, in the editor's bumbling with the day-to-day practice of living embedded within a tragic and poignant tale of alienation and loss.
  b.masonjudy | Apr 3, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 111 (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 (67 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nabokov, Vladimirprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Blumenfeld, RobertNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
義之, 富士川Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Drews, KristiinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kinbote, CharlesForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rorty, RichardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Verstegen, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vietor, MarcNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
慎一郎, 森Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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Book description
Haiku summary
The curse of the verse!
(Note: this refers to Zembla.)
So: king, or madman?

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141185260, 0141197242

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