by Vladimir Nabokov
Description via Goodreads
Down you go, but all the while you feel suspended and buoyed as you somersault in slow motion like a somnolent tumbler pigeon, and sprawl supine on the elderdown of the air, or lazily turn to embrace your pillow, enjoying every last instant of soft, deep, death-padded life, with the earth's green seesaw now above, now below, and the voluptuous crucifixion, as you stretch yourself in the growing rush, in the nearing swish, and then your loved body's obliteration in the Lap of the Lord (221)
Where to start with this book....there are two narratives; one of John Shade, the poet, who led a relatively uninteresting life, with the exception of a recurring preoccupation with death. His narrative is confined to four cantos of poetry. The other is Charles Kinbote, neighbor of Shade and self-proclaimed editor of Shade's work. His narrative starts with the foreword, continues with the commentary and ends with the index. The reader will quickly learn that Kinbote is not exactly what he seems. I find him to be sort of a Shade groupie, a megalomaniac and his sense of entitlement and self-importance is quite annoying. But I think this is intentional...I expected the commentary to be an explication, a means to delve deeper into Shade's intent, but instead we are given huge chunks of the story of Kinbote. As I read about the escape of a self-exiled King Charles of the imaginary Zembla, I'm only thinking about how peculiar it is for the commentary to not be exclusively about Shade or his work. Especially, since I think Shade's upbringing and encounters with death have more gravity than Kinbote's predicament. Why does this happen?
I can't tell you how/ I knew--but I did know that I had crossed/ The border. Everything I loved was lost/ But no aorta could report regret./ And blood-black nothingness began to spin/ A system of cells interlinked/ Within one stem. And dreadfully distinct/ Against the dark, a tall white fountain played (59)
I think this is one of those books that could be read more than once and each time something different pulled from it. I feel the need to say that I didn't read Pale Fire in order, I skipped around. I read the poem first, and then the foreword and then the commentary/index. I'm not exactly sure why I did this, but I felt like I needed to read Shade's work without Kinbote's influence...There is something to be said when a poet has already reduced his life to 999 lines of poetry and the editor takes it upon himself to insert entire complex/and or absurd memories into a work that isn't about him. He reached beyond the space of the foreword--I think there's criticism about literary criticism here...at least that's what I took from it because Kinbote is pretty much ridiculous.
Very interesting meta fiction (?) Definitely something I would consider rereading and probably need to reread.