Yesterday I finished Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire and I have to admit: I’m flabbergasted! This novel is without doubt one of the best novels I’ve ever read! First of all, it is the final reckoning with literary critique and scholarship and it is a really well constructed novel which is written in a way that it can never become a movie. The novel consists of a foreword, an “heroic” poem of 999 lines (by the imaginary writer John Shade) and a scholarly commentary to the poem (by the unreliable narrator and scholar Charles Kinbote. Perhaps, this sounds boring to you, but in the commentary a totally different story is told which turns out to have something of a thriller. Why there is such a story (only) within the notes will become evident in the last commentary to the poem. I shall refrain from writing a spoiler, because you really have to read it yourselves!
The construction of the novel is really very special, although it remains highly readable throughout. I have said that it is the final reckoning with literary critique and scholarship, but it gives even literature itself a hard time. And it is very critical with the US and Old Europe (as usual in Nabokov’s novels). After reading Lolita and Pnin, I didn’t really become a fan of Nabokov’s writing (although at least Pnin isn’t bad either), but Pale Fire was a revelation for me. It is no surprise that the novel figures in the Random House lists of the 100 best novels.