Review - Pale Fire

Pale Fire
by Vladimir Nabokov
300+ pages

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.

Pale Fire

Three stars.


  1. It messed with you, didn't it? The metafictional considerations go even beyond the text and have ramification into Nabokov's life. If you reread it, it will mess with you again, in different ways. Even moreso if you read criticism.

    1. Well, yeah. I got to the end and was like--what?? And as you can see I had a hard time writing about it...I was super annoyed with that Kinbote character.

      Ramifications into Nabokov's life?...how so?

      I think I will definitely read criticisms of the text. Maybe it will help--or maybe it won't.

  2. Pale Fire is my favorite Nabokov and has a permanent place in my Top 10 favorite novels of all times. It is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

    You are almost done with the European Reading Challenge. There is a Wrap Up page available, so if you do a wrap up post, please add your link on the page.

    1. It is definitely something unique. I'm glad I read it.

      I am almost done with the challenge! And should be resuming my reading of the Three Musketeers very soon.

      I will be sure to add my wrap up post.

      Thanks for stopping by! (and hosting)