Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov

2012 Book 161: Pale Fire

Written by Vladimir Nabokov, Narrated by Marc Vietor

Reason for Reading: November was Russian Reading Month, hosted by Tuesday in Silhouette


In this complex piece of literature, we explore the psyche of Charles Kinbote, an eccentric and obsessive man who is writing the introduction and notes to a 999-line poem entitled Pale Fire by a recently deceased poet with whom Kinbote has become enamored. Nabokov’s novel isn’t written in novel-form, though. It has four major parts: Kinbote’s introduction to Pale Fire, the poem itself, Kinbote’s prolific footnotes, and his index. This doesn’t really sound like an engrossing story, I know, but descriptions can be misleading. Kinbote’s notes are hilarious, sad, and frightening. As the book proceeds, we readers become more aware of the depth of Kinbote’s obsessions – we learn more about who he is (arguably, who he thinks he is) and, through the unreliable testimonies of Kinbote, we learn about the passions of the poet John Shade. This is the type of book that has so many layers, you’ll never find the core…but you’ll be fascinated and laughing in turns while you look. This was my first reading of the book, and I’d have to read it again to decide on my own interpretation. I was really impressed by the audiobook production…this isn’t the type of story that lends itself well to audio, but they did an admirable job. There were two readers, one for Kinbote’s thoughts and one for the poem of John Shade. Both readers did a fantastic job…especially Vietor with Kinbote. He put JUST the right emphasis on words so that I would catch the humor in the complex word-play. However, if I read it again, I’ll probably do it using the written-word so I can flip back and forth. This book is definitely worth a read if you like unique stories and complex psyches.

7 thoughts on “Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov

  1. I've been avoiding this book for years, but your description is intriguing. I may have to give it a try. As an indexer myself, I particularly like the idea of an index being part of a fiction book — part of the storytelling, in a sense.


  2. Anya: Probably best not to listen to audiobooks while driving then. 🙂 I listen mostly while I'm exercising or cleaning. I listen while driving on long trips, though!

    Lark: The index was a pretty funny part of the book. 🙂 The whole thing was really quite creative.


  3. Sounds amazing! RE: your comment on my blog, I'm glad you chose this, because Nabokov is still very much a Russian writer, or at least, that's my personal opinion 🙂


  4. Yeah, he certainly identified himself as Russian, and that's the important part. 🙂 I'm glad I read it, anyway….probably wouldn't have picked it up for a very long time if you hadn't had the Russian theme.


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