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Pale Fire

4.19  ·  Rating Details ·  29,455 Ratings  ·  1,763 Reviews
In Pale Fire Nabokov offers a cornucopia of deceptive pleasures: a 999-line poem by the reclusive genius John Shade; an adoring foreword and commentary by Shade's self-styled Boswell, Dr. Charles Kinbote; a darkly comic novel of suspense, literary idolatry and one-upmanship, and political intrigue.
Paperback, 315 pages
Published April 23rd 1989 by Vintage (first published 1962)
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Miles Ross I read it twice. The first time i read the poem and then commentary afterwards. The second i flipped back and forth from the poem to commentary. The…moreI read it twice. The first time i read the poem and then commentary afterwards. The second i flipped back and forth from the poem to commentary. The second method was BY FAR the better one. Please do this. If you don't like physically flipping back and forth (it definitely is tedious), listen to the audiobook. (less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Aug 03, 2016 s.penkevich rated it it was amazing
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Scott
Shelves: innovative, parody
I. Foreword

With deepest sorrows, I regret to inform everyone to the death of fellow Goodreads reviewer, and my dear friend, s.penkevich. While he may have departed, I, Vincent Kephes, have taken upon myself the burden of collecting his notes and the half-finished reviews that he left behind in order to bestow them upon you all. I am certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that, having been close with s., this is in keeping with his wishes, and although they were never overtly expressed, I knew from

I liked² this book³, especially the poem.

When I use the first-person singular pronoun, I am here referring to my normal persona. I have also, at various times, maintained other personas. For example, between 1999 and 2001, I used to play chess regularly on the KasparovChess site under the handle "swedish_chick".

I find this a strange example of what makes people believe things. Everyone was extremely skeptical on first meeting her; but, for some reason, as soo
Barry Pierce
Stop it Nabokov, you're making every other writer on this planet look terrible.

This novel, which basically rejects every element and characteristic of our common conceptions of "novels", is a masterpiece of form and structure. It is a book made up entirely of footnotes. In the beginning, we are presented with a poem, a 999-line poem called Pale Fire. The "novel" part of this "novel" resides in the commentary and footnotes on this poem.

Nabokov constructs an entire narrative, complete with rounde
Glenn Russell
Nov 19, 2016 Glenn Russell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

“The summer night was starless and stirless, with distant spasms of silent lightning.”
― Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

Do you enjoy reading the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Lord Byron and William Butler Yates? If so, then Vladimir Nabokov might be your favorite novelist, since this master prose writer's feel for language and precision of words is equal to any of these great poets. However, if you are like most readers of novels, what keeps you turning the pages isn't necessarily the p
Jun 11, 2009 Zulieka rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whoop-dee-doo, five stars to Mr. Nabokov. Do you also feel silly clicking on the ratings? You throw gold stars into Pale Fire and the vanity of star-ratings is exposed.

We here are a community trying to reclaim our authority over writers who for pages have manipulated our thoughts and beings. Generals get stars, good students too, and my 2-year-old every time she uses the potty. Only the higher-ups get to hand them out, but c'mmon, is there a higher-up for Nabokov? Whoever can, hand him a real s
I’ll example you with thievery:
The sun’s a thief, and with his great attraction
Robs the vast sea; the moon’s an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun;
The sea’s a thief, whose liquid surge resolves
The moon into salt tears; the earth’s a thief,
That feeds and breeds by a composture stolen
From general excrement: each thing’s a thief.

Shakespeare, Timon of Athens, Act IV, scene III

This is not a regular review,
and may not be for you.
If you stay to read, never fear,
Nabokov announ
Aug 17, 2007 Nick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I loved this, especially as my copy of the book seemed to operate on a meta-meta-meta-meta-level.

The book initially appears to be an unfinished poem, 'Pale Fire', by a dead writer named John Shade, together with a foreword, detailed commentary and index by a friend of his, Charles Kinbote.

But Kinbote is less interested in the poem than he is in discussing the country of 'Zembla' and its flamboyantly gay, deposed King. It's more or less apparent, as the book progresses, that Kinbote is EITHER a)
May 23, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it
It’s a well-known fact that dogs have a talent for smelling far better than our own. They can detect much fainter scents from much farther away. What’s more, when a stew is cooking and all we smell is stew, they can pick out each ingredient –- the potatoes, carrots, beef and even the bay leaf and parsley flakes. Close readers who are analogous to these super sniffers are the ones who will enjoy this book the most, I suspect. No worries for the rest of us, though. I’m proof that this can still be ...more
Parthiban Sekar

Death is the termination of all biological functions that sustain a living organism*. Is that it? No! It is an eternal loss of a lively soul; a sudden departure from the precious present; an endless termination of familial bonds. Nothing can affect anyone more than a death in one’s family, especially a life purloined from us before its time. Such is the memory misery of our poor, dear poet Mr.Shade, the father of the departed bride, Hazel!

“For we die every day; oblivion thrives
Not on dry thighb
May 27, 2015 Cheryl rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovers of stories in poetic form
Life is a message scribbled in the dark.

One of the reasons I’ve decided to rehash a love affair with poetry this year is because of what Jane Hirshfield says in Nine Gates: “No matter how carefully we read or how much attention we bring to bear, a good poem can never be completely entered, completely known.” When I’ve been reading a Thomas Hardy novel longer than anticipated (a novel known for its preachiness, albeit seasoned sentence structures), a narrative poem and novel like Pale Fire simp
MJ Nicholls
Pale Fire presents a 999-line poem from murdered poet John Shade, followed by an unreliable commentary (and earlier intro) from his stalker and apparent chum Charles Kimbote. The commentator takes an arch tone to his union with shade, exaggerating and distorting his position in the poet’s life, and uses the space to expand on the history of his homeland Zembla in lieu of discussing the poem’s content. Upon a first reading I found the book something of an extended academic titterfest, albeit lard ...more
Sep 11, 2011 Mariel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: a hand
Recommended to Mariel by: a foot
Now I shall spy on beauty as none as Spied on it yet.

I read Pale Fire under the bed. I didn't roll around in the sheets and get sweaty and come at the same time like all of the sex scenes on HBO tv shows. I hid under the bed and I didn't look first to see who the bed belonged to. So long as it wasn't mine... Another sweaty body did the dirty on top and I could feel the springs pushing into my back down below. Paranoid body on top and apprehensively hopeful body below. Just below, me. Jealous wiv
“All the seven deadly sins are peccadilloes but without three of them, Pride, Lust, and Sloth, poetry might never have been born.”
― Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire


One of the funniest, most absurdly brilliant books I've ever read. I find it amazing that Nabokov would have written this novel (which oddly is a haunting retelling of my life story) without mentioning me by name at all. There must be a reason for this. Perhaps Nabokov was trying to not just protect me, but my whole family from the fame a
Jr Bacdayan
Nov 04, 2015 Jr Bacdayan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am resisting this unmistakable urge to write the review in the form of a poem supplemented with annotations. I would really like it but it just feels rather too obvious, and mind you, better reviewers than I have done it. s.penkevich and Manny Rayner have done marvelous jobs at it and so it is with a heavy heart that I have decided, with complete control over my faculties, to write a rap song called “Flameboi” instead (with four verses, 24 lines) complete with commentary from one of my dearest ...more
Ian "Marvin" Graye

"Canon Fire", a poem in heroic couplets, of thirty-six lines, consisting of only one canto, was composed by Ian Vinogradus (born March 4, 1957) during the last two days of his life (up to that point in time), at his residence in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

He started the poem on Saturday, July 16, 2016, on the evening that the military coup occurred in Turkey. He completed it the following day, Sunday, July 17, 2016, after it became clear that the coup had failed.

Canon Fire
[After a
Anthony Vacca
Jan 29, 2016 Anthony Vacca rated it it was amazing
Pale Fire is another great American novel narrated by another great Nabokovian vampire, the academic showboat Dr. Charles Kinbote. This particular parasite wraps the leathery wings of his sexy but suffocating rhetoric (syntax that seduces, diction that deflowers) around the last poetical work of John Shade, a 999 (or 1000) line poem entitled “Pale Fire.” Kinbote is only too happy to abuse his coveted position as the sole editor of “Pale Fire” by infesting the poem’s Forward and line-by-line Comm ...more
Dec 02, 2014 David rated it really liked it
Nabokov's Pale Fire is "what a composer of chess problems might term a king-in-the-corner waiter of the solus rex type."

Perhaps even moreso than Luzhin Defense, Pale Fire seems to me Nabokov's ultimate ode to the king's game. A kind of post-modern salad of quirks and quizzes, the structure of the "novel" is a 999-line poem of heroic couplets by the late John Shade, a preface, an index, and most importantly explanatory commentary in the form of end-notes by Charles Kinbote (friend? neighbor? de
Nikki Nielsen
Jan 26, 2009 Nikki Nielsen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After reading 'John Shade' for a time, I
Can not help but think in rhyme. Gray
Cat sits on a sunken chair; Full of
Spite and covr'd with mangy hair.

Was that the phone? I listen at the door.
Pause. Nothing. I resume vaccuming
Once more. And there's the wall of
Sound, that nightly wall. Frogs
Croak, the 'Yotes howl and frighten all.

What torture and yet splendid pain, Nabokov
Has inflicted on my brain! Ludricous,
I say; that I am pleased. When he's
left me feeling used and thor'ghly teased.

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
The thing you want to know in order to get started is whether you ought to read the poem, the one by Shade at the beginning of this book, or whether, with calm of mind, you might skip straight to the meat of the matter, the novel. Just get on with it. Well, to be honest and such, I’d have to give a strong recommendation to read the poem. Not all at once of course. And certainly not as preparation for the novel. That would be asking too much. But read enough of it somehow. Gradually pass along it ...more
What a beautiful work of art, Nabokov was such a master at both prose and poetry. This unique blend of prose and poetry offers a delightful sojourn to cherish !!
K.D. Absolutely
Jan 16, 2015 K.D. Absolutely rated it it was amazing
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2012); Time 100 Best Novels in English
My 3rd Nabokov and this sustains my belief that he was really one of the great storytellers that ever walked on earth.

This postmodern novel is an example of meta-fiction. Because of this, it is a difficult read. I had to slow down and oftentimes went back at the start of the paragraph only to understand, even how shallow, what Nabokov is saying. In the end, however, finishing this book especially because I tried to really understand it, gave me a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment. Nobody c
Jul 14, 2016 Helle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What have I just read here?
Jun 25, 2015 Teresa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excelentíssimo Senhor Nabokov,

Quero agradecer-lhe o magnífico presente que me ofereceu, embora ele muito me tivesse confundido. É que está tão embrulhado e enleado, que receio não o ter apreciado tanto quanto ele merece. A culpa é minha, reconheço; deveria ter-lhe obedecido quando me dizia (e, por vezes, ordenava) constantemente, para "ver verso x; ver nota ao verso y; ver prefácio" (mas quem é que consegue estar sempre a avançar e a recuar?)

Gostaria de lhe dizer o quanto gostei (e me esforcei
Apr 07, 2016 Junta rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Junta by: Manny's review (read in early 2015), Fionnuala's Nabook-fest (late 2015)
Well, how lucky to start another year with a rare 5-star rating. I'm dying to write some sort of review for this, but it won't be coming any time soon. The prose (and the poem) was delightful, and it's expanded my notions of what can be achieved in literature.

I've been reluctant towards poetry in general, never having picked up a book focusing on the spouse of prose, but reading Pale Fire has ignited my interest in the world. If any of you who reads this can suggest where would be some good plac
David Rim
Aug 25, 2007 David Rim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: smarter people than me
There really isn't any other word to describe "Pale Fire" other than brilliant. How else can you describe a novel whose story takes place almost entirely outside its own text?

In the end, I can't decide whether I'm supposed to even like the poem, which I did. I can't decide whether Nabokov even wanted me to consider this a great work of fiction or whether this is a bitter satire of readers and critics? Should I be offended? Or do I detect a hint of self-disgust? Should I laugh at Charles Kinbote
Sep 19, 2016 Pantelis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In many books, things are not what they seem. In this particular book, MAYBE things are not what they seem. Nabokov allows no certainty to his reader. He treats his reader like Kafka treats the central characters of his novels. It’s a sadomazochistic game between author and reader, full of pleasure for both parties.
Roy Lotz
I have no desire to twist and batter an unambiguous apparatus criticus into a monstrous semblance of a novel.

Giving star ratings to books is, as I'm sure you've already noticed, a tricky business. Sometimes, I even find myself wishing for a more nuanced rating system—perhaps with multiple categories, with stars ranging from 0 to 10. Yet I think such a system would quickly grow tiresome. The best solution is to give a book a star rating and press on; the review is the meat, the star-rating the ga
Mar 21, 2009 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009, russians
Pale Fire is ostentatious, high octane genius, almost as if Nabokov were trying to squeeze a complete showcase of his novelistic virtuosity in just over 200 pages of text (an epic poem within a story within a larger story, all of which may very well be the complete fabrication of the annotator/narrator, who is quite convincingly insane). Among other things, this is a portrait of insanity and perversity on par with Lolita, but with more literary/metaliterary pyrotechnics.
This book IS amazing, but that doesn't mean I loved it.

Nabokov is a word magician, and he has such imagination. His words and his imagination merge to become an object d'art filled with originality and humor, concluding in an amusing commentary on literary critique, which I totally support.

So why do I feel the book was merely OK?

Line after line of humor is hard to take. Do you sit and read a joke book? I don’t. Or maybe this book is better if read it in small portions, not as a novel but as a co
Ben Winch
Friends, Goodreaders, Nabokov fans, help! I can see how this is going: p100 (Kinbote’s description of the king’s flight through the secret passage in his wardrobe just gone) and I’m flagging. Earlier I’d decided not to take note, as I read, of the many verbal quirks that irritated me, but by “Rumours rumbled” on p93 (with “hopeless and helpless”, “Parisian panders”, “spectral spider”, “feminine fascination” and, I’m sure, many others in the 10 pages preceding) I became so incensed I started jott ...more
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Russian: Владимир Владимирович Набоков

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, also known by the pen name Vladimir Sirin, was a Russian-American novelist. Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian, then rose to international prominence as a master English prose stylist. He also made significant contributions to lepidoptery and had an interest in chess problems.

Nabokov's Lolita (1955) is frequently cit
More about Vladimir Nabokov...

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“Dear Jesus, do something.” 249 likes
“All colors made me happy: even gray.
My eyes were such that literally they
Took photographs. ”
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