Nabokov gives a novel… novel.

Posted on October 10, 2011

Pale Fire by Vladamir Nabokov

What makes Vladmir Nabokov so great? I maintain that the reason my hair is still curly is because of the shivers his prose sends through my scalp. But it’s more than that. Each of his works seems like a puzzle or an illusion and it’s up to you as the reader to figure out the real story. Pale Fire is quite possibly the most masterful of his novels when it comes to the twists and turns of plot and theme that makes Nabokov’s novels so very special.

You want to know the craziest thing that’s been said about this book? It pre-empts HTML. Yeah. The book is ‘actually’ a poem by the fictional John Shade. But the better part of the pages are taken up by a forward, footnotes and conclusion, written by Charles Kinbote a ‘friend’ and admirer of the great poet.

And therein, we find the real story and the true joy of this book. You can read it any way you want. You can do it the way I did (on my Nook) and read the poem then go through the footnotes. Or, you can just dig right in with the footnotes. If you were to read the poem by itself you would be very bored and angry. This book was one of the first documents translated into HTML because the best way to read it would be to instantly go to the footnotes for each line or so of the poem.

A great deal of the narrative deals with the fictional state of Zembla and the absconsion of it’s leader, King Charles. For you linguistics nerds, there’s even a constructed language.

This is easily the most mind-bending of Nabokov’s novels (that I’ve read). The prose is not as solid, but that wasn’t really the point. As in most books, the main characters are not who they seem, the idea of authorship is blurred and you’ll spend some time at a liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere.

Here’s the thing about this book (I’m really trying to come up with a good noun to describe it, maybe work?) is that it has been analyzed moreso that the better part of anything else. Many Nabokovians consider this his most perfect novel (‘Pnin’ has this distinction in my opinion).

If you have never read anything by Vladamir Nabokov, I wouldn’t start with Pale Fire. You really have to be willing to sit down the same way you would with a crossword puzzle or chess problem. I’d start with Pnin or Lolita. However, if you’re looking to pick something up that will make you think, not about life, morality or the human condition, but rather about the artistic possibilities of the written word, then you definitely want to check out Pale Fire.

Like this book review? I’ve got a whole lot more. Here you go!


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2 Responses to “Nabokov gives a novel… novel.”

  1. Bill on October 10th, 2011 1:04 pm

    This is my favorite by Nabokov personally but I haven’t read Pnin.

  2. Heath on October 10th, 2011 1:13 pm

    What else have you read?

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