Nabokov's "Pale Fire"

"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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  • John

    This novel was quite intricate in its conceits and sometimes virtuosic in its displays of language. However, despite its memorable opening lines, I did not much care for the poem at the novel's heart. On the other hand, I appreciated the novel's increasingly bizarre humor.

    February 20, 2014

    • john

      Nabokov in his lectures on literature at Cornell urges his students to react to good literature viscerally ( or, spinally). This admonition may be his lasting legacy. Nabokov, somewhat dressed down in his lectures, proves to be a great critic in the tradition of Northrup Frye.

      February 21, 2014

  • Catherine D.

    Really interesting discussion; great group of people!

    December 5, 2013

  • Janet K.

    I'm really very sorry to be a no-show as I write. Just not feeling well today, kept postponing cancelling because I hoped I'd feel better.

    December 5, 2013

  • heather p.

    Really enjoying there book, but cannot make it tonight, sorry.

    December 5, 2013

  • john

    Who writes the intros to / description of the books suggested for reading? Where are they from?

    They are well written and therefore are a good preview for potential new members who are shopping around for serious-book clubs to join. Kudos to the author(s).

    December 3, 2013

  • john

    Your choice struck me happily as I have been a Nabokov reader for at least 40 years.

    Zembla in Pale Fire is close to the Russian "zemlya" ( land/earth ) so is one of the myriad of Russo-English puns Nabokov is fond of. Just one observation more: An example of Nabokov's technique of recognition and wonder is found in his autobiography, Speak Memory, when he , as a child, sees a series of separate portholes interrupted by buildings at the end of several streets...and suddenly solves the gestalt to see in his mind's eye the ship, and how very big the ship is, which will take him to America..." like the sailor in the tree" which solves the puzzle of dots. Like Dickens and Tolstoy, Nabokov sees everyday things with new eyes and therefore makes everything new for the reader.

    December 3, 2013

  • Laurel D.

    I really like the book Lolita and that book is filled with despair, but I was not able to get a copy of Pale Fire from the library and from the short passage I found online it did not make any sense to me. I understand it also a book about despair and the narrator kills himself. I would like to see what cause him to kill himself, but I can't read the book. It's a poem, not a story. There were some poems in Lolita I really did like, especially one about "Oh Officer Officer return her to me." So, I think we should read Lolita at some point. There are many layers to Lolita and it is not a straight forward as it appears upon first glance. But, this poem in Pale Fire, I just can't follow it.

    1 · December 3, 2013

  • Alice C.

    Got the book. Surprised that it is a poem in 4 Cantos! This is one of the 2 of Nabokov's work that was in Top 100 in Contemporary Literature. The other is, of course, Lolita!

    August 9, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    What's up with this date? Can't really be December 5th 2013?? Or is there a glitch? Well if there is a Nabokov Pale Fire meeting I'd like to come.

    March 1, 2013

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