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June 6, 2017


Pale Fire

by N@ncy



  1. Pale Fire is a 1962 novel by Vladimir Nabokov.
  2. The novel is presented as a 999-line poem titled Pale Fire.
  3. It was written by the fictional poet John Shade.



  • I cannot explain the story in details, you have to discover it yourself!
  • Here are some items that can help you get started.
  1. Setting:
  2. Wordsmith College, New Wye Appalachia (J.Shade)
  3. Cedran, Utana (C.Kinbote sits in a log cabin in the mountains)
  4. Satire:  academic environment


  1. 2 narrators
  2. John Shade (Robert Frost type poet, 61 yr)
  3. Charles Kinbote (confused teacher at college; stalker?)
  4. 3 major characters – Shade, Kinbote and Jack Grey (mentally unstable)


  1. 3 plot lines – each follows the major characters
  2. These plot lines will intersect at the book’s climax.
  3. The daily events on campus strangely resemble life in Zembla!


  1. Structure:
  2. Foreword by Charles Kinbote,
  3. He has a manuscript of the poem by his neighbor.
  4. Poem by Shade  Pale Fire
  5. Commentary on Pale Fire by Kinbote
  6. Index
  7. Tip: There is a secret in this book and if don’t skip the forward you will know it!
  8. Whenever you read that  something in Nabokov is ‘pointless’ (pg 181)
  9. …you should look for the hidden point!
  10. Tip: Notice that commentary turns out not to be about the poem…but about what?


  1. Theme:  Exile (there are  more themes….but I choose the most obvious one)
  2. Charles Kinbote, an ex-pat (as is Nabokov) from the country of Zembla.
  3. This  country strongly resembles  Nabokov’s homeland Russia.
  4. — revolution in Zembla resembles the overthrow of monarchy in Russia
  5. — Zembla is also located somewhere in Eastern Europe, just like Russia.


  1. Literary device:
  2. Nabokov uses the same 4 part  format that  he had used
  3. …during the translation of Eugene Oneigin. (1949-1957)
  4. This is a way to draw the reader into the book in a very original way.



  1. I have an old sweatshirt with more holes than swiss cheese.
  2. But when I wear it I feel I can think like Socrates,
  3. …imagine like Tolkien and write with an acid pen like Swift.
  4. I depend on this sweater to be there for me.
  5. Unfortunately I need more than my
  6. ….Bilbo’s Mithril Shirt to help me understand Nabokov.
  7. I opened the book, my head fell into my hands and I thought:
  8. “What have started?”
  9. Is it a book?  a poem?  Look at all those  footnotes!
  10. Nabokov is more than Lolita, much, much more.
  11. There are at least 80 books written by critics and scholars
  12. …just trying to explain all that Nabokov squeezes into this strange book.
  13. I read it, but feel I haven’t grasped it.
  14. Word plays, allusions to Russian history and all the references to other
  15. literary works  and writers sometimes went over my head.


Last thoughts:

  • This book is too complex to review in depth in my little blogpost.
  • I don’t have…the insights to explain it.
  • Now I can only give a quickscan of the parts I do understand
  • …and  perhaps you will be tempted to read this book.
  • You have to be sharp if you want to discover allusions like:
  • Andron and Niagarin (bumbling Russian spies)
  • …allusion to Rozencrantz and Gildenstern (…also bumbling boys)
  • John Shade had sent his poem to the New York Magazine
  • ‘The Beau and the Butterfly’
  • …allusion to The New Yorker Magazine with it’s famous Spring cover!
  • I am  left dazzled by the labyrinths of Nabokov’s mind.
  • The book reminded me of the movie ‘Usual Suspects’ with Kevin Spacey.
  • If you see the movie the ending will surprise you….just like this book!
  • If you watch the move AGAIN…you will see  successive discoveries
  • …you missed….just like this book!
  • Nabokov said:
  • “… one cannot read a book: one can only re-read it!”
  • How true….
  • #OnceInALifetimeExperience
4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Louise
    Jun 6 2017

    I have not been able to get into either Nabokov or Salinger. Both had horrific war/revolution experiences and came to the US to write material totally unrelated to their formative years. Salinger… “Perfect Day for a Banana Fish” .. need I say more? Maybe there is a clue here as to why Lolita emerged and not a War and Peace.


    • Jun 6 2017

      Thanks for your comments….
      Nabokov was this year’s literary challenge…big time!



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  1. #20BooksOfSummer | NancyElin
  2. Wrap-up #20BooksOfSummer 2017 | NancyElin

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