Home » USA » Vladimir Nabokov » Pale Fire

Vladimir Nabokov: Pale Fire

Pale Fire may be Nabokov’s most interesting work. It is written as a 999 line poem by a poet, John Shade, who, at the start of the novel, has been shot dead. In addition to the poem itself, the editor, Charles Kinbote, has written a commentary and an index. Unfortunately, Kinbote is, to all intents and purposes, insane. He maintains that both he and Shade are from the Kingdom of Zembla, that the poem is about King Charles of Zembla, that he, Kinbote, is King Charles and that a revolutionary, Jakob Gradus, had come to the US to assassinate King Charles but had mistakenly shot Shade. Of course, this may or may not be true. Nabokov offers us clues and counter-clues. It has even been suggested that Kinbote is, in reality, Shade, who is not dead. Suffice it to say that there is now almost a whole industry explaining the plot, deciding who wrote the poem and the commentary, who Shade and Kinbote really are. Nabokov himself even implied that it is a minor character, the also insane Professor V Botkin. As well as references to the work itself, the book is full of numerous literary and cultural references, some of which require a good knowledge of English lit and Russia. Don’t worry if you miss them or don’t really have too much idea of who Shade and Kinbote really are. This is a really fun and unique novel to read.

Publishing history

First published 1962 by Putnam