Pale Fire
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Pale Fire

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  21,453 ratings  ·  1,247 reviews
The famous American poet John Shade was murdered in 1959. This text contains his last poem, Pale Fire, together with a foreword by Shade's editor, Charles Kinbote.
Paperback, 248 pages
Published May 1st 2010 by Penguin Books, Limited (UK) (first published 1962)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Manny

I¹ liked² this book³, especially the poem⁴.
____________________________________

¹ 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...more
s.penkevich
Jan 25, 2013 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...more
Zulieka
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...more
Nick
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)...more
Steve
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
Mariel
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...more
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
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.


David
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? dep...more
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...more
John
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.
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
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....more
Geoff
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
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
Conor
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...more
Ryan
This is the third Nabokov book I've read (the Defense and Lolita being the others) and maybe because of it's formal inventiveness, the remark I've seen about hearing the clatter of surgical tools in Nabokov's prose seemed more apt here. And compare that metaphor with Nabokov's own description of Dickens in 'Lec on Lit' -

"All we have to do when reading Bleak House is relax and let our spines take over. Although we read with our minds, the seat of artistic delight is between our shoulder blades. T...more
Dusty Myers
A novel in the form of a work of criticism. After the death of the renowned poet John Shade, his neighbor and colleague Charles Kinbote gets hold of the 999-line autobiographical poem he'd been writing; what we read are Kinbote's foreword to Shade's poem, the poem itself, and then more than 150 pages of Kinbote's commentary on the poem. Oh, and an index. What makes the text readable like a novel (and ultimately what saves Pale Fire from being merely a fun exercise in pomo intertextualities) is t...more
flannery
I've been so daunted by this book for so long but I love it so much. No one told me it was actually A TRANSCONTINENTAL MURDER MYSTERY featuring REGICIDE! one of my favorite literary tropes. And I forget, when I'm psyching myself out on reading serious books by canonical authors, how funny Vladimir Nabokov can be. Footnote to the word "often" in line 62 begins: "Often, almost nightly, throughout the spring of 1959 I had feared for my life", which for me matches the opening to Joseph Heller's "Som...more
Sesana
Structurally, Pale Fire is a bit of an odd duck. It's a (fairly lengthy) poem, written by the fictional poet John Shade. And it's also the forward and annotation, written by the equally fictional, off-balance scholar Charles Kinbote. The annotations are where it gets interesting, for me. The poem was serviceable enough, seemingly heartfelt, but ultimately unexciting for me. I was much more interested in tracking Kinbote's stories.

Reading the annotations (which you can read with or without the po...more
Amy
Pale Fire is one the funniest books I have ever read. The book is structured as a foreword, a poem, commentary, and an index. I personally don't like poetry very much, but the poem was so bad that I'm pretty sure Nabokov was making fun of poetry and poetry analysis in general. As I started reading more of the "commentary" it seemed pretty clear that it really had very little to do with the poem, although each paragraph or couple of pages were supposed to refer back to a certain set of lines. Ins...more
Terry
This is the book that let me see that 'post-modern' fiction can be fun and rewarding at the same time that it is challenging and subversive; it doesn't all have to be literary wanking. The story unfolds in the guise of a collection of poems by character John Shade with an accompanying commentary by stalker-fan Charles Kinbote.

As we read through the poems, and especially Kinbote's commentary (which is more about himself and his own delusional pre-occupations than the poems it professes to expound...more
Mara
(Not a real review, mind you, for I am still staggering, just:
1. How did I not know VN was FUNNY?
2. One suspects all literary critics and annotators are apophenic.
3. There is joy in having to look up words, and more joy when those words seem to have been used only by VN in the last fifty years.. Inenubilable!
4. I am getting better at books that take three bookmarks to read for the flipping back and forth. And I opened Baker's Mezzanine tonight to thrill to the sight of all of the footnotes my he...more
Sera
Hands down, Nabokov's writing kicks ass and his insight into human nature is keen. I think that he's clever and interesting and funny, and if you haven't realized how seriously I am crushing on this guy than you need to read more books.

Lolita is a masterpiece, and no matter my love for Nabokov, he will have a difficult time convincing me that that book is not his best work (although I will keep looking). Pale Fire is an interesting book, because it's a poem, but no really, it's the story behind...more
James
Reading used to be simpler. One just had to find a comfortable chair, turn on a good reading light, open the book and read. Now reading has become a project or rather, in my case, two projects.

First, I am reading The Guide of the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides (see separate review at The Guide of the Perplexed).
Second, one might think that reading a short twentieth-century poem with four cantos consisting of less than one thousand lines of verse might be a little easier. But, no.
This is Pale F...more
Michael William West
Aside from all the strange meta-business in here, it's very, very difficult to not admire a novel that is about a fictional poet who has written (fictionally) one of the greatest masterpieces of modernist poetry, and then to produce that poem right in the middle of the book. It absolutely sends you spinning when you realise that the poem MAY NOT necessarily even be as good as you are told it is, that the whole context surrounding it is enough to warp your opinion, and then on returning to it, yo...more
Jim Coughenour
Still my favorite Nabokov novel, even better the second and third time through. Layers of Lewis Carroll (overdetermined antic insanity, unrivaled wordplay); plots nested like Russian dolls; hilarity laced with a scathing contempt for artless readers, platitudinous sincerity, know-it-alls, academia, critics, anyone intellectually and artistically inferior to Nabokov (i.e., everyone); a perverse mystery as involute as life itself. Unsurpassed, sui generis, wicked laughs inserted into every page li...more
Laura Leaney
I admit that I don't feel smart enough to write a proper review of Nabokov's book, but I'm unashamed at my lack of brains; like a "waxwing slain / By the false azure in the windowpane," said brains have been dashed against the pages of an unbelievably slippery and amusing book that defies any genre I know.

"Pale Fire" is the name of a 999-line poem in four cantos by the famous poet John Shade (a creation of Nabokov). After Shade's death, Charles Kinbote (also fictitious) absconds to a cabin in t...more
Andrea
There's such an aura around this book that I was astonished that I didn't fall down on my knees in ecstasy after reading it. Or at least pee in my pants a little. But hey, I've only read it once, and true initiation apparently requires multiple readings (and more than a cursory look at the huge piles of studies and analyses that PF has generated) so perhaps I'll have to reread and do some homework before I can get at that particular brain candy.
For now, I'll have to make do with the modest rewar...more
Anastasia
Io c'ho provato, secondo episodio, prima stagione (anzi, settimana a questo punto, Seamus Heaney mi contempla con disapprovazione).
Nessuno avrebbe la faccia tosta di negare che la struttura del libro è originale, se non brillante, se non geniale: le prime decine di pagine sono occupate da un poema di 1000 versi scritto dal personaggio del poeta, John Shade, che viene commentato nelle restanti 200 pagine e passa dal personaggio del critico, Charles Kinbote. I due sono vicini di casa nella cittadi...more
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Russian: Владимир Владимирович Набоков

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 cited as his most important novel, and is at any rate his most widely known one, exhibiting the love of intrica...more
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