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Pale Fire (1962)

by Vladimir Nabokov

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,936122989 (4.24)1 / 324
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.
  1. 10
    Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov (KayCliff)
  2. 10
    Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes (the_awesome_opossum)
  3. 10
    Ananios of Kleitor by George Economou (bluepiano)
  4. 00
    Tomcat in Love by Tim O'Brien (jscape2000)
    jscape2000: A narcissist reveals himself by the contortions he makes to self-justify the way he sees himself and the world with the way the world sees him.
  5. 00
    Mulligan Stew by Gilbert Sorrentino (ateolf)
  6. 00
    Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (beyondthefourthwall)
    beyondthefourthwall: Choi follows in Nabokov's footsteps here with some gutsy, unflinching, open-ended metafiction. In both cases - trying to avoid spoilers here - there is a piece of writing, mysteriously incomplete, and much of the rest of the text is by someone who claims to have been a close friend of the author. But there are some pretty weird things going on slightly below the surface, and it's clear that some kind of big traumatic event has loomed over the whole thing. A considerable amount of room for interpretation ensues.… (more)
  7. 00
    The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips (Lirmac)
    Lirmac: Another great work of metafiction where the novel comprises the work of one 'author' with notes and introductory material by another.
  8. 00
    The Dissertation: A Novel (Norton paperback fiction) by R. M. Koster (slickdpdx)
  9. 00
    Sartor Resartus and On Heroes and Hero Worship by Thomas Carlyle (slickdpdx)
  10. 00
    А Perfect Vacuum by Stanisław Lem (unctifer)
Books (27)
Romans (42)

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» See also 324 mentions

English (117)  French (1)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (122)
Showing 1-5 of 117 (next | show all)
Another Great Work that left me cold. Looking over commentary online it seems like the ideal way to experience this is to actually pursue all the interlinked commentary to decrypt what's going on, but the ending seems to spell things out explicitly enough that I don't see any real need to go back. I didn't really hate it, but I didn't love it either. ( )
  skolastic | Feb 2, 2021 |
i read the notes first, then stanza. if there were references to other notes in that note i jumped to the referred note and read that. suffice to say i was jumping around quite a bit. pretty fun. ( )
  stravinsky | Jan 1, 2021 |
It took me years to finish this novel. I started it several times but would never make it past the first twenty pages or so. I'm no stranger to postmodern literature, but this is such an oddly shaped novel: a poem and a series of footnotes to it. Even now it's unclear to me whether the poem is supposed to have any artistic value (although, now that I've read the whole book, I'm not sure it matters), and the footnotes don't serve their intended purpose; that at least was clear from the beginning.

This time, I told myself that I'd finish the book no matter what, and I'm glad I did, because it quickly won me over. It is filled with allusions and references, both to itself and to other works, and that was initially very disruptive, but it becomes acceptable. It also helps that different parts of the book "rhyme" thematically with each other. Once the weirdness of the format fades away I could find a great deal of humanity in the main characters. John Shade, who tragically lost his daughter (and then his own life); Charles Kinbote, who is generally very disagreeable but also a tragic figure on his own right; and Gradus, who despite how negatively the narrator describes him I found some sympathy for (perhaps because of his extreme incompetence). Overall I was not too impressed, though. Given the complexity of the text I'll probably revisit in the future.

The book is a bit of a puzzle box and invites theorizing on what's real in it and what's not, and who actually wrote it. I'm not very interested in solving the puzzle myself but there's a lot of good online essays on it. It's funny that Nabokov himself has given some views on the matter of authorship. I wonder if he did that to complicate the question even more. (The Death of the Author was published five years after Pale Fire).
( )
  fegolac | Dec 26, 2020 |
I have loved many Nabokov novels, but I gave up on PF. I appreciate the linguistic skill, its clever puzzle like nature, and the unreliable narrator. But I found it overbearingly pretentious and tedious, and not to my taste. One cannot love everything. ( )
  Misprint | Aug 31, 2020 |
A journey in a novel, twisting and winding and ultimately trudging toward an inevitable conclusion. My brother describe it as "the only book I have ever read that requires two bookmarks", and this is pretty apt. Great fun. ( )
  ephemeral_future | Aug 20, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 117 (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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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 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.
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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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141185260, 0141197242

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