Thursday, March 24, 2016

#81 - "Pale Fire" by Vladimir Nabokov

My exodous from blogging about these books is over. I continue to find it difficult to not just write this blog, but also to read the books from the List. Since my last post, I have read this one and only one other, Invisible Man. Very little progress to say the least, but I am continuing, and just picked up The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen.

After taking such a long break from writing here, it became more and more difficult to start up again.  The good news is I've decided I needn't dwell on why I haven't been reading or writing, but instead just to start up again, and continue on.

WIth out further ado, my review of Pale Fire, which I finished reading in September.

I was looking forward to this book as much as any I have left on the list, the only reason being I enjoyed Nobokov's other List book, Lolits, so much. Now I'm left with a book that was interesting, well written, but also one that I don't think I enjoyed very much.

Pale Fire is part poem, part fantasy novel, part memoir, part...well, it's a lot of different things. Basically, John Shade had written a 999 line poem, but was murdered before a planned 1000th and final line. Following his death, his neighbour and possibly his friend, Charles Kinbote, has obtained the work, and decided to write commentary on the poem, with the hopes of having it published.

The book begins with the poem, each line numbered for the reader's convenience, which is followed by Kinbote's line by line commentary. There are times where even a single word receives five or six pages of commentary.

The commentary, or analysis, often seems to drift off topic, and usually ends up being about Kinbote himself, instread of the poem. And at times it talks of a distant land, Zembla, and its King Charles. As  one gets deeper into the book, it soon becomes apparent that Kinbote is likely an unreliable narrator, and is merely trying to reference his own story about his alter ego in the fantasy world of Zembla.

I'm intrigued by the concept of an unreliable narrator, simply because it leads to such interesting discussion about what is real and what isn't. It was a concept I found very intriguing with American Psycho. By the time I was finished this one, I was of the feeling that none of his story was true, and that perhaps Kinbote was simply insane. I'd go as far as to question the existence of John Shade, a murdered neighbour, or even the poem itself.

While that aspect is interesting, I often found Pale Fire to be confusing and difficult to follow. I appreciated the language and the writing, but found it difficult to maintain my interest in reading it. What should have been a very quick read, turned into a month long jounrey through Zembla, a poem, and a rambling commentary.

Now, as I reflect on it, several months after having read it, I don't want to say I didn't enjoy it. Nor do I want to say I did. For me, this was one of those books that was neither here nor there for me; one I place in the middle of the rankings.

This might be a book that I revisit sometime, with perhaps a different strategy on how I approach it. The first time around, I read the poem first, then read through the commentary, only occasionally referring back to the line in the poem the narrator is commenting on. Another approach would be to read the commentary and poem concurrently. I don't know what that would change, but it might be worth a go. Of course that wouldn't happened until I've read the final 18 books.

My 82nd book, Invisible Man was completed in January, and I will post my review of in a few days. Number 83, will then be The Death of the Heart.


  1. Glad you're back!

  2. Glad you're back! Can't wait to read more of your reviews.