Tiziana's Reviews > Pale Fire

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
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's review
Apr 19, 14

Read in July, 2011

I could try and write a pseudo-intellectual review of Pale Fire, and fail. I could pretend I got all the intra- and intertextual references, but I would be lying.
So I will start with my more immediate, emotional reaction to this book, which is of wild enthusiasm! Pale Fire tells a clearly fictional story, but it is not a novel (or is it really?). It is the supposedly critical edition of a poem written by a fictional poet, John Shade, during the last weeks of his life, before being killed in an attack that was (probably) meant for someone else, i.e. Charles Kinbote, the dodgy, mental editor of the posthumous edition of his poem.
The poem and its commentary tell two different but somehow intertwining stories, Kinbote's one being so hilariously far-fetched and implausible that there's no danger of the reader empathising with the characters at any level. The boundaries between the characters themselves are also rather blurry, and there has been a lot of debate between literary critics as to whether Shade and Kinbote really are two different characters.
As in so much 'meta-fiction', the formal structure of the story, and the way it is arranged is the point of interest of the book - rather than emotional empathy with the characters. In a way it's literature reflecting on itself, rather than saying something about humanity, which is why so many see this sort of writing as off-putting and cold. But my personal view on the subject is that critically examining the way in which we tell stories also has SO much to do with the way we tell our own stories to ourselves, and therefore on the way we perceive and interpret our own lives. Superimposing our life stories with a narrative structure unconsciously borrowed from literature, fairytales, romance novels (according to upbringing, education, and taste) is a mental prison into which we try to squash the unruly proliferation of our daily lives in order to make sense of it, to find a meaning, a direction, and an ultimate goal to attribute to it. Which is why I welcome fiction that reflects critically on itself and tries to find a new way of telling stories, of describing the world, of opening our eyes to what goes on around us. And there is one thing, I think, that comes out intact from most metafictional experiments, and that makes me like it so much, and so effortlessly, and that is the sheer joy of story-telling.

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Reading Progress

04/06/2014 marked as: currently-reading
04/19/2014 marked as: read

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