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Pale Fire (1962)

by Vladimir Nabokov

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7,2581281,056 (4.23)1 / 341
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, one-upmanship, and political intrigue."This centaur work, half poem, half prose...is a creation of perfect beauty, symmetry, strangeness, originality and moral truth. Pretending to be a curio, it cannot disguise the fact that it is one of the great works of art of this century." -- Mary McCarthy… (more)
  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)
2021 (25)
Books (27)
Romans (42)

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» See also 341 mentions

English (122)  French (1)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (127)
Showing 1-5 of 122 (next | show all)
dazzling play, a view of the self from a point above it, which is magic. ( )
  AnnKlefstad | Feb 4, 2022 |
One of my favourite books. I've lost track of how many times I've read it over the years, but I always find something fresh.

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov is one of the most playful and intriguing postmodern novels of the twentieth century. Read my review here.


#PaleFire #VladimirNabokov #literature #postmodern #JohnCAdamsReviews #JohnCAdams #MondayMusings #book #Review #Reviews #bookreview #bookreviews ( )
  johncadamssf | Nov 1, 2021 |
I think the format was very elegant and it was honestly really mindblowing but I felt like the whole side story was sort of too out there for ths type of book but ARGUABLY there's a reason for it to be so but at the same time I don't know what I was expecting this was lit ( )
  jooniper | Sep 10, 2021 |
31. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
published: 1962
format: 303-page Paperback
acquired: May
read: Jun 30 – Jul 12
time reading: 13:43, 2.7 mpp
rating: 4
locations: an eastern American college and Zembla (“a distant northern land)
about the author: 1899 – 1977. Russia born, educated at Trinity College in Cambridge, 1922. Lived in Berlin (1922-1937), Paris, the US (1941-1961) and Montreux, Switzerland (1961-1977).

Had I known what I was getting into, and done a little mental prep, I would have enjoyed this novel a lot more than I did. Instead, in the midst nice reading flow, I found myself unexpectedly in hundreds of pages of commentary of a 1000-poem. To follow along the reader has to constantly cross-check the poem and the commentary, and, as the commentary has little to do with the actual subject of the poem, keep cross checking to try to read between the lines...and that's just to make surficial sense.

Charles Kinbote acquired exclusive rights to his colleague John Shade's 1000-line poem, nearly finished before Shade's untimely death. This book is the poem and Kinbote's commentary, kept free of any editorial oversight of any kind. Kinbote is in full control. He provides an introduction, oozing with unnamed classical references, telling a little of context of Shade's poem. Shade, who's name is a reference to the word used to describe souls in Dante's Divine Comedy, is presented to us as an overshadowed Petrarch, who, when first met in frozen winter, could not get his car tire "out of a concave inferno of ice". Shade, like Petrarch, provided notes on the dates he started sections of his poem, but not on the the endless editing done until his death. A farce first exposed when we quickly realize Shade only worked on his poem a month. This makes Kinbote an equivalent of an early Petrach commentator... but who? Anyway, this Virgil/Dante/Petrarch nonsense gets dropped out of our introduction, which closes with Kinbote advising us not read Shades poem next, but to read his own commentary on its own first, then read Shades poem, and then read the commentary again. Amused at Kinbote's need to overshadow his subject, I considered this a moment. There are 226 pages of commentary. I read the poem first.

The poem, of course (?), has it's own farcical aspects, but is also a touching and curious autobiographical exploration of Shade's life, marriage, his daughter's suicide and his own hard atheism confronting her ghost. It's all in rhyming couplets. It opens with a couplet now often referenced, "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain/ By the false azure of the windowpane;". When I finished reading the poem I was looking forward to some explanative commentary, but should have known better. It takes Kinbote two sentences to switch from Shade to himself. Kinbote is consumed with thoughts on his home country, his fictional Zembla, "a distant northern land", with its own language. Kinbote had talked to Shade extensively about Zembla, none of which Shade put in his poem. So, Kinbote inserts it all in his commentary, and adds Shades death, contriving dark prophetical aspects on this out of Shade's poem - like in that first line.

This is all, in theory, good fun. Critics at the time either praised its elaborate complexity, and criticized its more fundamental simplicity. But whatever it may be, I have left it mostly unresolved in my own head, my extensive cross checking actually kept to a minimum. So I found it a mildly amusing but very frustrating read. I guess it's a classic case of YMMV, or maybe of the idea that the more you put into it, the more you get out of it, and therefore the less...etc.

https://www.librarything.com/topic/333774#7558529 ( )
1 vote dchaikin | Jul 19, 2021 |
We are absurdly accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain immortal imagery, involutions of thought, new worlds with live people, speaking, weeping, laughing. We take it for granted so simply that in a sense, by the very act of brutish routine acceptance, we undo the work of the ages, the history of the gradual elaboration of poetical description and construction, from the treeman to Browning, from the caveman to Keats. What if we awake one day, all of us, and find ourselves utterly unable to read?

Charles Kinbote simply tosses off little observations like this for almost no reason as he wanders through his spiraling story, weaving himself back and forth in time, unfolding the death of John Shade.* It is these moments of piercing clarity amidst the chaos that make this work much more than its story, more than its craft. The hints of sorrow and fear that occasionally ring through our narrator, suggesting that he knows the truth, are what make this heartbreaking. The sparkling, joyful hideousness of Kinbote, even (especially) when he is fully invested in his own tale, is what makes it fun. (That and the fact that it's a novel written in the end notes to a poem. And the whole book is part of the story. And it is holding hands with all the author's other books. I have a thing for things like this, you see.)

Truthfully, in terms of sheer enjoyment, this one is probably about a four for me; I loved it, but not it-took-over-my-life kind of loved. I take that to be a factor of where it falls in my own reading history; having already enjoyed its literary descendants, I am hungry for a more postmodern level of complexity. Unless it's Shade? If it's Shade, I seriously missed it. Damn, what if it's Shade? Onto the reread shelf with you! This is just one of the ones I wish I had encountered much sooner, before those other things. On the other hand, if I had read it sooner, I probably would not have recognized the sheer genius apparent in Nabokov's seemingly effortless writing. The clear, astounding language itself is the star here.

I would like to say something more significant, but I'm coming up short. So many others have reviewed this so much better than I could already. If you haven't read this one yet, give it a go. Then come back and read the first several reviews on the book's first page on GR. They're better than mine. (I especially like Manny's review.)

*Things that happen on the very first page (the very first sentence in fact) do not qualify as spoilers. And, yes, this is one of those books where you read the foreword. And of course the end notes. And the index. The whole book, Goodreaders. Read the whole book.

Personal note: Read in [b:Novels, 1955-1962: Lolita / Pnin / Pale Fire / The Lolita Screenplay|7807|Novels, 1955-1962 Lolita / Pnin / Pale Fire / The Lolita Screenplay|Vladimir Nabokov|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347492521s/7807.jpg|10855], reviewing separately. (If I end up reading the whole omnibus I'll go back and fix all the shelving to get the book and page counts right, but right now I'm mostly planning on just reading this one. Mostly.) ( )
1 vote amyotheramy | May 11, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 122 (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 (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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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, one-upmanship, and political intrigue."This centaur work, half poem, half prose...is a creation of perfect beauty, symmetry, strangeness, originality and moral truth. Pretending to be a curio, it cannot disguise the fact that it is one of the great works of art of this century." -- Mary McCarthy

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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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