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Pale Fire

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  25,686 ratings  ·  1,483 reviews
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 construc
Paperback, 248 pages
Published May 1st 2010 by Penguin Books, Limited (UK) (first published 1962)
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Community Reviews

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Aug 20, 2015 s.penkevich rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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 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)
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
I was mesmerized with the planes of collision of this unusual novel. We get a pompous, self-serving introduction by a fictional editor to a poem, the poem itself, rendered in wonderful old-fashioned lyrical verse dancing life against death, and then a commentary that twists the content of the poem and the scholar’s connection to the author into an absurd dramatic framework. For dessert, an index that pulls your leg in case you weren’t sure. It’s clever, but not smug. There are challenging depths ...more
May 27, 2015 Cheryl rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 11, 2011 Mariel rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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
Anthony Vacca
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
Jr Bacdayan
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
Nikki Nielsen
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.

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
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
K.D. Absolutely
Jan 16, 2015 K.D. Absolutely rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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 !!
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
David Rim
Aug 25, 2007 David Rim rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Sentimental Surrealist
I have a weird relationship with Nabokov. He's a brilliant prose stylist, and an innovative metafictionist, but I have too many quibbles about his books to induct him into my inner circle. Part of the problem is that, for all his metafictional innovations, his work in that realm is cheap as often as it's genius - the endings to Bend Sinister and Invitation to a Beheading both struck me as major cop-outs. If that was the only problem I had with him, then that would be one thing, but his elitism s ...more
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
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.
Mark Desrosiers
On the one hand, I agree with D.J. Enright, who called this sort of thing "farting a tune through a keyhole" -- very clever, but is it worth the effort? I only "got" about a third of the trilingual puns and paleo-Baltic in-jokes -- and I'm certain I have no idea which unreliable narrator hiding behind which curtain is the "real" author of this work -- I still grooved on Vlad's trickster erudition and cinematic (or rather GIS) eye for space and place.

Is it worth all the effort? No, probably not.
The questions of authorship, unreliability, etc., that would naturally occur to any reader of Pale Fire (whether there was ever supposed to have been a Shade or a Kinbote at all, and if so, whether Shade was an invention of Kinbote, or Botkin or Kinbote-kin of Shade; whether a king, mad or not, ever found his exiled way to New Wye (Y) Appalachia from that distant Zembla; whether other, less physical Shade or Shades were imparting symbols from a death-distanced beyond onto a Botkin-bote vessel; w ...more
MJ Nicholls
The 999-line poem ‘Pale Fire’ in Nabokov’s overpraised novel Pale Fire has never been taken seriously as a defining lyrical masterwork but more a ludic/parodic exercise in sly snark and icy affect. This enormous boxset from Gingko Press extracts the poem from the novel and presents the work in a rustic 50s style chapbook and a series of handwritten Shadean index cards. In a side panel of this black felt box (with illustrations by Jean Holabird) a second chapbook ‘Reflections’ presents two essays ...more
Ellen Young
A perfect book in every way, and absolutely hilarious. I rarely laugh out loud when reading, but I laughed out loud most of the way through this. I was amazed at the audacity of the writing as well as delighted by the constant puns and jokes. What skill it took to pull this off. This is no ordinary novel, and it could have gone so wrong, or remained an interesting experiment worthy of reading just for the sake of paying homage to a popular writer of his time. But this is so much more. Nabokov go ...more
You gotta hand it to Nabokov for writing a complete novel in the form of footnotes and commentary of a 999 line poem.

Review to come...or probably never.
Nelson Zagalo
Começar por referir dois elementos centrais desta leitura: a) considero Nabokov um dos escritores mais relevantes de sempre em termos estéticos, a par com Proust; b) por três vezes quis fechar o livro e desistir, a tal desespero me levou o autor nesta leitura. Se b) não aconteceu, foi apenas porque existia a).

“Fogo Pálido”, como muitas análises vos dirão é um objecto único, embora o tenha sido mais em 1962 do que é hoje. A obra apresenta-se como uma espécie de introdução ao pós-modernismo literá
I couldn't write, or didn't want to write, a review after reading this. I think a couple of years on, a couple of cloth-bound versions given away to lovers as gifts, and I'm ready.

The first thing that should be noted for anyone approaching this book is that it's a commentary on editing and a novel with extremely odd form. If you're not down for that, or you don't like the idea of reading a poem, then stay away.

That said, it's still jaw droppingly amazing what this book is. It shouldn't be, but i
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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...
Lolita Pnin Invitation to a Beheading Speak, Memory Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle

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