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Pale Fire Paperback – April 23, 1989
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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
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Top Customer Reviews
The poem itself is a complicated, beautiful, mysterious achievement. It reveals the character of John Shade so completely and movingly that we have to keep reminding ourselves that it was actually written by Nabokov, himself. The poem is the heart of the novel, literally and figuratively, although the commentary no doubt constitutes the most interesting reading. Pale Fire is Shade's final work; possibly his greatest work. It is the product of every thought and experience in a long, thoughtful life, and it also contains that entire life: childhood, adolescence, marriage, fatherhood, old age and death. The title refers to the "pale fire of time," and is taken from a poem by Yeats and not from Shakespeare, as Kinbote confidently suggests. Or is Nabokov simply leading us on a merry chase? Better check Timon of Athens to be sure.
And Kinbote is frequently wrong in his confident suggestions in the commentary.Read more ›
It is arguable, and debatable, whether this title or Lolita is Nabokov's masterpiece, but what is certain is that Pale Fire is once of the tightest, best-structured books of the 20th century.
Pale Fire is laid out in three parts: a Foreward written by Charles Kinbote, a Poem written by John Shade, and Commentary, also written by Kinbote.
What is prefigured in the Foreword and then made explicit in the Commentary is Kinbote's strange relationship with Shade and his equally strange past. The story is told completely through the device of the Foreword and Commentary, and in them Kinbote paints himself as a refugee from a despotic regime in a faraway land known only as Zembla. He takes up residence in New Wye, right across the street from professor and poet John Shade.
Once settled in New Wye, Kinbote embarks on an obsessive, mutedly homoerotic relationship with his poet neighbor, courting him when they are together and spying on him the rest of the time. Although Kinbote has fled his native Zembla, he dearly loves his homeland with the pain of one who knows he can never return to the land he has forsaken, and it is his dream that Shade will immortalize Zembla in a poem.
But just as Kinbote reaches for Zembla, so does Zembla reach for Kinbote. In the Commentary Kinbote brings forth a character called Gradus, who is an assassin sent from Zembla to search him out and kill him.
If the Foreword and Commentary tell the story of Kinbote, then the Poem tells the story of Shade. In only 999 lines, Shade paints a vivid picture of his past, taking us through his idyllic life in New Wye, its sudden destruction one night by death of his daughter, and his subsequent coping.Read more ›
Surprisingly, you'll find that this book composed of a 999-line poem and the commentary written on that poem by a colleague, has a plot. It is ingenious, twisted, brilliant. One of the most finely crafted works of art ever. I've picked up the word "replete" in relation to art from Steven Pinker, and this work is repleteful. The words, the language, the structure, the social criticism, and most of all, the beauty, as I contemplate and re-contemplate this work, grow ever more replete.
I love this poem. "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain/ In the false azure of the windowpane" and its delicate rhymes and trips and footfalls are savored with every single re-reading. He brings an outsiders perspective to the language with rhymes we don't "see" but hear: "Come and be worshipped, come and be caressed / My dark Vanessa, crimson-barred, my blest" and it sometimes feels like he's introducing you to a new English language.
So who wouldn't like this book, I suppose, should be a question the reviewer should try to answer. Well, I just can't imagine anybody that's ever bought a novel not liking this one, so I suppose if you're a pure non-fiction reader, this ain't for you. And Nabokov is a bit bloodless at times, you won't find the wild, sloppy joy of a Kerouac, or the brawny aggressiveness of a Hemingway, but finely finely crafted and turned and polished words delivered impeccably, perfectly.
Please, please, read Pale Fire. The more of us that carry Nabokov's masterwork in our hearts, the more he will have "lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky"
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is a labyrinth to get lost in. Infinitely re-readable. Tons of allusions. Ahead of its time and ours.Published 1 month ago by Jason Walker
Imaginative, Nabokov at his best. What a pleasure to curl up with a book from the Everyman's Library series ... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Pamela Wolfe
To me the cliffnotes/side story part of this are secondary and not that great, but the poem itself is a masterpiece and is well worth the price of admission in itself. Read morePublished 2 months ago by idiosophy
Write about what you know. Okay. Write about writing about what you know. Maybe. Go to the next theory of mind level? Probably not. Read morePublished 4 months ago by James S. Kelley
In this work, Nabokov effected a greater critique of western academia than anyone else, past or present, ever has--including Chairman Mao. Read morePublished 4 months ago by T. Cue.
I don't think there ever was or could be another novel like Pale Fire. It might be the sole title in the "pompous academic poetry criticism masking a mystery thriller"... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Hike Mogan
Designing a collection of clothes based on some of the stanzas in this book!Published 5 months ago by J. Logan