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Pale Fire (Everyman's Library Contemporary Classics Series) Hardcover – March 10, 1992
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"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, The New Republic
"As a literary tour de force it surpasses anything else Mr. Nabokov has done." —Atlantic Monthly
"Scintillating, brilliantly inventive…[Pale Fire] has almost as many layers of meaning as an artichoke has petals." —Commonwealth
"Of all [Nabokov's] inventions, Pale Fire is the wildest, the funniest and the most earnest. It is like nothing on God's earth." —New York Herald Tribune
"A monstrous, witty, intricately entertaining work . . . done with dazzling skill." —Time
"Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written, that is, ecstatically." —John Updike
From the Inside Flap
With an Introduction by Richard Rorty
The urbane authority that Vladimir Nabokov brought to every word he ever wrote, and the ironic amusement he cultivated in response to being uprooted and politically exiled twice in his life, never found fuller expression than in Pale Fire published in 1962 after the critical and popular success of Lolita had made him an international literary figure.
An ingeniously constructed parody of detective fiction and learned commentary, Pale Fire offers a cornucopia of deceptive pleasures, at the center of which is a 999-line poem written by the literary genius John Shade just before his death. Surrounding the poem is a foreword and commentary by the demented scholar Charles Kinbote, who interweaves adoring literary analysis with the fantastical tale of an assassin from the land of Zembla in pursuit of a deposed king. Brilliantly constructed and wildly inventive, this darkly witty novel of suspense, literary one-upmanship, and political intrigue achieves that rarest of things in literature--perfect tragicomic balance.
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The novel is divided into a Forward-the actual poem Pale Fire-the Commentary on the poem-and finally an Index. I read the novel linearly from page one to the end. You could read it by flipping back and forth between the Commentary and the poem, but you would be wasting your time, as the Commentary really has nothing to do with the poem it is supposed to be commenting on.
The novel lends itself to a myriad of interpretations, none of which I am going to examine here. Do that for yourself, I don’t want to foist an interpretation on you.
The biggest strength of “Pale Fire” is the characterization of its narrator by Vladimir Nabokov. I had read only a few pages of the Forward and Dr. Kinbote was clearly established as a real person, and he is a great character. I would have no desire to know him, but he is most certainly real. He is a delusional and very lonely man, desperately in need of companionship. And in some traits he is like most of us, and probably not in a manner we are comfortable with.
“Pale Fire” is an intriguing and very different read. Nabokov is clearly mocking academics, literary criticism, the culture of the 1950s, and even the reader themselves. It is not your usually reading experience, but it is a worthwhile one.
The reason I bought it for kindle is the way in which it is written. It is a foreword followed by a long poem followed by notes. When you read it, you flip between pages a lot. Either in this book or a similar one, the author makes a casual comment that made you should just buy two copies and have one be always on the notes, one on the poem. This is why I bought it for my iPad, not my kindle, since I really wanted the easy navigation of touchscreen (I have 2nd gen kindle, I don't know how it'd be for the newer versions).
Okay, important: the lines are not hypertext linked to their notes, or vice versa. This honestly makes a lot of sense, because some of the notes are for things like the word "the" and have (arguably) absolutely nothing at all to do with the note, and so having all that linked text could get distracting and annoying.
This is also important: there are links to notes and lines in other places. For example, the foreword mentions a note and there is a link. In some of the notes, it says that such and such a line or such and such a note may be related and useful, and those are linked as well.
I believe that this is the best way to make the book efficient to read and not overly distracting. The technology works with the book. And since the story is told in a nonlinear and no traditional way, there is no true correct way to read it. The notes are not like notes in a typical book, where you need the note to make sense of the situation. Here, the notes are the story.
Oh, this may be relevant: in the book, the lines do not have superscript numbers or anything that connects them to the notes. Each note gives the line and relevant phrase. So it's not as though the kindle version took out something important.
Another good part of having the kindle: Nabokov uses fairly rare words fairly frequently. The dictionary function is incredibly useful... When I first read this in book format I had to sit with my computer (with access to the OED) all the time. So, just sayin', this may be an easier way to read a challenging (not difficult, not hard, just challenging) book.
Lines 120-121: five minutes were equal to 40 ounces, etc
In the left margin, and parallel to it [the poet wrote]: 'In the middle ages an hour was equal to 480 ounces of fine sand or 22560 atoms.'
I am unable to check either this statement or the poet's calculations in regard to 5 minutes, i.e., three hundred seconds, since I
do not see how 480 can be divided by 300 or vice versa, but perhaps I am only tired...
There are so few mathematical jokes in this world!
Its not easy describe because there is nothing really comparable that I have come across, but I'll give it a try. The book is written in three parts, an introduction written by Charles Kinbote (essentially the main character in the book), the 999 line poem "Pale Fire" written by fictional American poetry icon John Shade, and an "analysis" of the poem by Charles Kinbote. Kinbote claims to be an acolyte of Shade's, but is essentially a crazy man and the "analysis" is really more the story of Kinbote's life with occasional references to the content of the poem. It is much more than that though, and only reading the book can do it justice.
While this book probably isn't for everybody, I consider it one of the best novels I have ever read, and I highly recommend reading it.