Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Russian-American writer Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Pale Fire, consists of an eponymous poem written by a fictional American poet, John Shade, and the annotations to that poem, written by the enigmatic Zemblan professor, Charles Kinbote. Fear not, however, that this work will be didactic or esoteric: Kinbote takes advantage of the commentary section in which he is supposed to elucidate aspects of Shade’s poem (a quiet introspection on the poet’s life) to tell his own adventure story of an assassin’s tenacious pursuit of an overthrown king. His thrilling tale, placed in the middle of a placid text, jars at first. But as Kinbote’s story picks up pace–in stark contrast to the mellow, unhurried rhymes of Shade’s poem–little details in both narratives begin to click together, and in the book’s last pages the two narratives coalesce in a bizarrely thrilling rush. I heartily commend Nabokov not just for the technical feat of composing a 999-line poem and “discarded” drafts in a fictional writing style, but also for whisking us on a maddening journey that, hours later, made me think. I only suggest that readers have a dictionary open while reading this.