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Pale Fire

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  38,498 ratings  ·  2,432 reviews

The American poet John Shade is dead. His last poem, 'Pale Fire', is put into a book, together with a preface, a lengthy commentary and notes by Shade's editor, Charles Kinbote. Known on campus as the 'Great Beaver', Kinbote is haughty, inquisitive, intolerant, but is he also mad, bad - and even dangerous? As his wildly eccentric annotations slide into the personal and the

Paperback, 256 pages
Published 2012 by Penguin Modern Classics (first published 1962)
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Nicola I disobeyed Kinbote and read it in order - intro, poem commentary. Though I did initially flip from the commentary back to the poem, I soon got bored…moreI disobeyed Kinbote and read it in order - intro, poem commentary. Though I did initially flip from the commentary back to the poem, I soon got bored of the hassle and simply went on reading as if it was a whole separate part and I really don't think I missed out on some tremendous reading experience. However, whenever the annotations were connected to another one, I flipped between those which definitely improved the experience to an extent because it's just too easy to forget crucial details otherwise.(less)
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Jan 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Scott
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
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
Glenn Russell
May 01, 2014 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
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,
Aug 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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)
Sep 07, 2007 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
Violet wells
Feb 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: faves
Whenever anyone asks me what's the funniest novel I've ever read I always nominate Pale Fire. I always thought it was my favourite Nabokov but on second reading I'm not so sure this still holds true. It's one of those books that relies heavily on its ingenious surprises and second time round its comedy routines lose the clout of the unexpected. The first thing that strikes is the jubilant joie du vivre with which he writes this novel. Nabokov knows he has a brilliant original idea which will ...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 23, 2013 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
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
Steven Godin
Surely Nabokov's finest achievement as a writer, his Russian stuff was pretty darn good, but after arriving in the States maybe it was Americanization that pushed him to greater heights and write more than one masterpiece. This novel, is simply put, one of the 20th century's best works, from one of it's best writers. Pale Fire is many things, a Jack-in-the-box, a tour-de-force, a clockwork toy with many components, a chess problem, an enigma, an infernal machine, a trap to catch readers, a ...more
Mar 26, 2015 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
“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
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 !!
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 ...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
Nefariously Fun Satire of Literary Criticism, Satyriasis and "Bold Virilia"

Nabokov was such a pure genius in performing brilliant magic with words of the English language, as well as in creating playful and at times side-splitting satire that lacerates the objects of its scorn. In Pale Fire, Nabokov targeted academia of literature and literary criticism and, to a degree, all males' preoccupation with sex .

Nabokov isn't my favorite author by a longshot, but given his masterpieces in Lolita and
Jr Bacdayan
Jun 13, 2015 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
Aug 30, 2011 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
Luís C.
"Pale Fire" is, without doubt, one of the best book of the Russian author emigrated after the Soviet Revolution of 1917 - he was from a wealthy and "aristocratic liberal" family and, like many of his novels, he has characters in the same condition as him, Russians trying unraveling in the West.

By its very structure the book is very original: it consists of a preface of some 10 pages, written by the narrator himself, Charles Kinbote, a poem of a thousand verses that occupies about 28 pages,
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 ...more
K.D. Absolutely
Feb 12, 2010 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
Nabokov has long been a huge obvious hole on my "read" shelf, which is a funny thing to say because it implies that my "read" shelf is more substantial than a few mangy pieces of string recrossed and knotted in a sad effort to make it seem as if it's not actually just one giant gaping hole of missing books that it's sad and troubling I probably won't ever manage to make it through before I die. Yes, I did read and greatly appreciated Lolita back in high school, but that was quite a ways back ...more
Nikki Nielsen
Jan 25, 2009 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 ...more
Feb 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, oulipo-mo
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?
Something tells me that having a conversation with Nabokov would’ve been a real sonofabitch. He would just dominate the conversation, leaving you to wonder at his imaginative wordplay, density; his unparalleled ironic detachment and cynicism. Hard to get a word in edgewise with a guy like that. Dinner parties must have been a nightmare.

Look, Pale Fire is flat-out fucking Genius—there’s no way around that one. It has more layers than a lasagna operating at any given time and, because Nabo gonna
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
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, own
A Zemblan nesting doll* of a novel.

*Much like it's Russian counterpart in that the primary feature is that dolls of descending size fit into one another, but unlike the Russian counterpart the Zemblan variety are tasteful and portray virile male youths.

I am going to abstain from composing this review in rhyming verse, though it is almost irresistible, largely due to the fact that I know I would bungle it up - a bit of a Gradus in that way.

This deceptive and fun novel has at it's heart a poem
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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 a big interest in chess problems.

Nabokov's Lolita (1955) is
“Dear Jesus, do something.” 283 likes
“All colors made me happy: even gray.
My eyes were such that literally they
Took photographs. ”
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