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Pale Fire

4.19  ·  Rating Details  ·  27,543 Ratings  ·  1,619 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, Penguin Modern Classics, 248 pages
Published May 1st 2010 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published 1962)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Oct 15, 2015 s.penkevich rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Apr 21, 2015 Barry Pierce rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 11, 2009 Zulieka rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 17, 2007 Nick rated it it was amazing
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)
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
Parthiban Sekar
Mar 15, 2016 Parthiban Sekar rated it it was amazing

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 23, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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’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 conventional review, and may not be for you. If you do stay to read, never fear, Naboko
May 27, 2015 Cheryl rated it it was amazing  ·  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 it was amazing
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
“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
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
Nikki Nielsen
Jan 26, 2009 Nikki Nielsen rated it it was amazing
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 it was amazing  ·  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
David Rim
Aug 25, 2007 David Rim rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 13, 2015 Lotz rated it really liked it
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mar 21, 2009 John rated it it was amazing
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.
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
Sep 05, 2014 Chrissie rated it it was ok
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
Mark Desrosiers
May 03, 2009 Mark Desrosiers rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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.
Nov 15, 2011 Geoff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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 !!
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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
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