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Pale Fire (1962)

by Vladimir Nabokov

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7,9941381,112 (4.23)1 / 351
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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 Nabokov!: Pale Fire and the Cold War4 unread / 4Meredy, October 2013

» See also 351 mentions

English (133)  Portuguese (1)  Spanish (1)  Hungarian (1)  Italian (1)  French (1)  All languages (138)
Showing 1-5 of 133 (next | show all)
Pale Fire falls into that category of books I've read that are clever but that don't tell a good story. Unfortunately that tends to make them a bit tedious. Professor Kinbote/Botkin here is annotating a poem by an allegedly major American poet with the fantastical creations of his own raving mad mind. There's more than a touch of parody to these creations, as Kinbote's kingdom of Zembla is obviously a stand in for the Russia that Nabokov fled from; the Zemblan Extremists serving as Soviet Communists. As elsewhere in Nabokov's works, the workings of these types of governments are portrayed as more farcical and incompetent than truly evil. The KGB would not have appreciated the insulting parody of themselves seen in the Zemblan Shadows.

Probably the source of my problem is that when I read a novel I want the world of that novel to be "real". I grant the world of the imaginary work reality because that makes it meaningful. I can't do that for the imaginary world of an imaginary world. It's the same problem I have with reading about the dreams of characters in a novel. They're unreal even in the context of this unreality I've granted reality, so I don't care.

And even so, the story told of Zembla isn't that good. It's mostly an opportunity for Nabokov to create some odd characters and have a little fun with them, and to mock and attack the Soviet state, which you know, he's done before. So, before long, tedium.

The poem that Kinbote is annotating is the best part of Pale Fire I think, where Nabokov's wit and playfulness work best. It's nothing to do with Zembla of course, just a biographical sort of work of a poet in rhyming couplets, in which he explores his thoughts and feelings on death and the afterlife, through his childhood to the suicide of his daughter. Nabokov's interest in this topic is maybe one of his more subtle themes that are present throughout his body of work. While certainly not one of the great poems of the century, as I'm a bit astonished to find a claim being made for in certain Nabokovian quaters, it's not bad! ( )
  lelandleslie | Feb 24, 2024 |
I was looking forward to this given its reputation, and was disappointed - undeniably clever, literary, and innovative, it is nevertheless missing something... Soul? Heart? Significance? It feels like a book written for intellectuals buried deep in the English Department, and by all accounts it is excellent fodder for them. ( )
  breathslow | Jan 27, 2024 |
Wow. Nabokov treats language like it is his much beloved grandchild. Anything else I say about Pale Fire is going to sound trite and silly. So I'm just going to stop and say that I'm glad I read it. ( )
  rabbit-stew | Dec 31, 2023 |
i must say i rather enjoyed this. nabokov could WRITE, my god. i was just endlessly stunned by the literary ambition and cleverness, even if the narrator annoyed me at times. i think that was kind of the point. ( )
  i. | Dec 22, 2023 |
I read the thousand-line poem and began on the commentary ... and just got bored. So I read about 30% of the book, and I didn't care for it.
People with a better background in English, poetry or philosophy might find it fascinating & great. ( )
  RickGeissal | Aug 16, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 133 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (64 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
Gorham, JohnCover designersecondary 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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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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Haiku summary
The curse of the verse!
(Note: this refers to Zembla.)
So: king, or madman?

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