Like Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire is yet another masterpiece that takes us into the inner dwellings of the labyrinth head of a mad (genius?) immigrant. Pale Fire is outrageously hilarious, and its narrative convolutions make Lolita seem as straightforward as a fairy tale.
The plot- John Shade is a poet in New Wye, U.S.A. He writes a 999-line poem about his life and what may lie beyond. This novel consists of both that poem and an extensive commentary on it by the poet’s crazy neighbor, Charles Kinbote.
According to this deranged annotator, he had urged Shade to write about his own homeland-the northern kingdom of Zembla. It soon becomes clear that this fabulous locale may well be a figment of Kinbote’s colorfully cracked, prismatic imagination. Meanwhile, he manages to twist the poem into an account of Zembla’s King Charles-whom he believes himself to be-and the monarch’s eventual assassination by the revolutionary Jakob Gradus.
In the course of this dizzying narrative, shots are fired. But it’s Shade who takes the hit, enabling Kinbote to steal the dead poet’s manuscript and set about annotating it. Still with me so far? By now it should be obvious that Pale Fire is not only a whodunit but a who-wrote-it. There isn’t, of course, a single solution. Is Shade is actually guiding Kinbote’s mad hand from beyond the grave, nudging him into completing what he’d intended to be a 1,000-line poem. Read this magical, melancholic mystery and see if you agree.