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Pale Fire Publisher: Vintage by Vladimir…

Pale Fire Publisher: Vintage (original 1962; edition 1988)

by Vladimir Nabokov

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5,74890738 (4.27)1 / 294
Title:Pale Fire Publisher: Vintage
Authors:Vladimir Nabokov
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Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (1962)

1960s (27)
Romans (42)

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English (86)  French (1)  Italian (1)  Hungarian (1)  Spanish (1)  All (90)
Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
Nabokov is known for being the king of unreliable narrators and I still fell for this one. I love metatextual books like S. and House of Leaves, so of course when I found out that this was in the same vein it had to become my first Nabokov. An engrossing story told via commentary on the last poem by an aging poet - the ways in which the two have nothing to do with each other is fascinating. The Introduction in the Everyman's Library edition I have is excellent, too, and not only because it warns you ahead of time not to read the Introduction before you've read the book. ( )
  jen.e.moore | Apr 17, 2017 |
I had once seen someone talking intelligently about this book who said that an Important Moment in Reading had occurred to them when they came to understand the "machinery" of how this book worked. And that comment from a person I shared enough reading tastes with made me so excited to start this book. And I actually kept putting if off because I thought it might be too clever for me if I weren't devoting 100% of my attention to it and studying it for a Literature class or something (which is, of course, ironic, given what this book is). So I'd built it up to be something Beyond Literature, and as such was pretty let down by the fact that there was no mystery in this for me. I had the measure of it from the very start, despite having avoided any analysis/synopsis of the book because I didn't want things ruined.

Of course we know that Nabokov and the unreliable narrator go hand-in-hand. Knowing that means knowing right away that Kinbote is twisting a story for you. And there's theories out there, and I latched on to the Botkin theory in particular, but I didn't find his motives or methods the most interesting. I actually kept thinking of Iris Murdoch's [book:The Black Prince|120182] and of how much more unsettling the narrator is there. Kinbote actually struck me as not dissimilar to Bradley Pearson in The Black Prince, nor could I shake off an impression of Parlabane from [book:The Rebel Angels|74405]. Kinbote didn't chill me so much as either of them--it's not that he's harmless, he's such a creep, but from certain perspectives he's simply... ineffectual.

I loved the writing style of the poem itself, but some of the effect was undone by the fact that Kinbote's voice--while consistently written in such a way that indicates Nabokov's talent--was so grating to my inner ear. Sure, this is pretty indicative of his character, but it made the reading experience less pleasant. I might also note that my approach to this book was reading the Forward, then flipping back and forth between "Pale Fire" and the Commentary. I don't know how this affects one's understanding of the book, because once you've read it once you can't go back and reading it for the first time again.

I wish I'd been able to find the magic in this book that the other reader had found. I thought I'd learn something about the Craft of Writing from a widely-avowed master, but perhaps this book came to me too late. I've had its lessons from other places that resonated first or resonated deeper. (Murdoch in particular--read Murdoch--why did no one ever tell me to read Murdoch?) ( )
  likecymbeline | Apr 1, 2017 |

“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.

( )
1 vote GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
1/2010: I think I'm converted to the Rothian interpretation of PF in light of RLS's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." In this interpretation, Shade, Kinbote and Gradus are all the same person; rather, each is a different personality residing in the same body. However, the novel is still populated with 'real' people -- i.e., people other than the diffracted personalities. I'm still mulling this over, though; but I'm open to it.

The author's son, Dmitri, singled out this novel as his favorite (of all time). This is actually two books in one: the poem, "Pale Fire," written by John Shade, and the commentary to the poem, written by one Charles Kinbote, who may or may not also be the exiled King Charles of Nova Zembla.

Here's the plot: John Shade was shot dead, through the heart, by a mad man on the day that he finished his poem, "Pale Fire," which consists of 999 lines of heroic couplets (do the math), in iambic pentameter. Charles, a "heterosexual man of action" (Charles actually used this term to describe an acquaintance of his), was present when Shade got shot. Thinking quickly, Kinbote took the poet's roughdraft and hid it away; he subsequently wrote the commentary to the poem -- without which commentary we wouldn't have the poem at all. Here's the problem: the commentary barely has anything to do with the poem itself; instead, it consists of increasingly flimsy references to the poem itself and serves instead as a platform for Kinbote to talk about his (very swishy, frequently hilarious) life in Nova Zembla.

The novel, rather Kinbote's commentary to same, may also manifest influences from Shade and his daughter, Hazel, both dead, both of whom express themselves by influencing Kinbote's very thoughts, probably by means of sympathetic vibration; e.g., a phenomenon whereby one string, unstruck, vibrates when its neighbor is plucked, so to speak.

Joshua Ferris (author of "And Then We Came To An End"), who named "Pale Fire" as his #2 "Most Influential Novel in last week's Newsweek (8/30/08), had this to say about the novel:

"Is it such a crime for a lonely bachelor to install two Ping-Pong tables in his basement?" (http://www.newsweek.com/id/156367/output/print)

A rather plaintive little question, no? Indeed.

In conclusion, I leave you the first stanza of "Pale Fire", quoted wholly without permission:

"I was the shadow of the waxwing slain,
By the false azure in the window pane;
I was the smudge of ashen fluff -- and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky."
( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
This beautiful and complicated novel rewards the reader on several levels, and that's just on first reading. It is elegantly structured. The first level looks simple enough -- an introduction of a poem, the poem itself, and then a series of notes on the poem -- but this explodes into complexity when you begin to understand just how unreliable a narrator we are dealing with, and just how wild are his beliefs about the poem (and about everything?) That makes it into a bit of a mystery. Who is the narrator? what is his real relation to the poet. The language of course is gorgeous (this is Nabokov, after all). Finally the whole thing is terribly funny, as an examination of delusion and as a takedown of the American liberal arts college. I plan to re-read the book, and to read a book of criticism about it ( Brian Boyd's "'Pale Fire': The Magic of Artistic Discovery"). After that I may revise the review, but for now I can only say how glad I am that I finally read it. ( )
  annbury | Mar 22, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 86 (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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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
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 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.
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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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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141185260, 0141197242

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