Pale Fire

Nabokov, Vladimir. Pale Fire. New York: Everyman’s Library, 1992.

Reason read: Nabokov’s wife, Vera, was born in January. This was read in her honor as it was dedicated to her.

Pale Fire is a parody and a commentary wrapped in suspense. There are two central characters, poet John Francis Shade and self-appointed editor of Shade, Charles Kinbote. Right away there is a foreboding air about Kinbote. Something about him doesn’t seem right. He asserts only one line is missing from the poem, the last one – line 1000. How does he know this after being Shade’s neighbor for only five months (from February 5th, 1959 to July 21, 1959)? He admits that twenty years earlier he tried to translate Shade. The word tried implies he was unsuccessful. Why was that? When Kinbote first moved next door he wasn’t invited into the Shade household. He was reduced to spying through the hedges and trees; an “orgy of spying” he admits (p 68).
But, the poem nor Kinbote’s relationship are the real focus of Pale Fire. Kinbote’s commentary allows him to tell a fantastic story of an assassin from the fictional land of Zembla set out to kill a fictional king. I agreed with New York Times critic George Cloyne in that Pale Fire can’t be read straight through with any satisfaction. It’s a tale to be dipped into from time to time. Despite it being only 289 pages long it took me forever to finish.

As an aside, I had to laugh when Kinbote was talking about the instructional notes he was finding all around his rental cottage. The houses on Monhegan have similar notes, especially if the owners are particular about the rules of their house!

Quote I liked (but confused me): “There is a very loud amusement park right in front of my present lodgings” (p 9). Literally or does that mean something else?
Another quote I liked, “A thousand years ago five minutes were Equal to forty ounces of fine sand” (p 28 Canto 1, line 120).

Book trivia: The footnote to the introduction warns that reading the introduction before the text would ruin the story. I took the advice to heart and read the introduction last.

Author fact: in 1919 Nabokov and his family were forced into exile. Just like the king of Zembla.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade: 1960s” (p 178) and from the chapter “The Postmodern Condition” (p 190). Also, in Book Lust To Go in the chapter “Cavorting Through the Caribbean” (p 53), although it doesn’t make sense. It is worth noting Pale Fire has nothing to do with the Caribbean and shouldn’t have been included in this chapter.

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