Pale Fire
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Pale Fire

By (author) Vladimir Nabokov , Introduction by Mary McCarthy

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Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, with its wildly original narrative structure, is a postmodern masterpiece from the author of Lolita, skewering the politics of academia, the struggle for interpretation, and the infinite subjectivity of human experience, published in Penguin Modern Classics. The American poet John Shade is dead; murdered. His last poem, Pale Fire, is put into a book, together with a preface, a lengthy commentary and notes by Shade's editor, Charles Kinbote. Known on campus as the 'Great Beaver', Kinbote is haughty, inquisitive, intolerant, but is he also mad, bad - and even dangerous? As his wildly eccentric annotations slide into the personal and the fantastical, Kinbote reveals perhaps more than he ought. Who is Charles Kinbote - could he be the exiled King Charles of Zembla, or the Russian madman, Professor Botkin? Or is he just another of John Shade's literary inventions? Nabokov's darkly witty, richly inventive masterwork is a suspenseful whodunit, a story of one-upmanship and dubious penmanship, and a glorious literary conundrum. "A Jack-in-the-box, a Faberge gem, a clockwork toy, a chess problem." (Mary McCarthy). "Pale Fire must be one of the most brilliant and extraordinary novels ever written, let alone in the twentieth century." (William Boyd, author of Any Human Heart).

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  • Paperback | 256 pages
  • 128 x 192 x 20mm | 199.58g
  • 01 May 2010
  • Penguin Books Ltd
  • PENGUIN CLASSICS
  • London
  • English
  • 0141185260
  • 9780141185262
  • 7,241

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Author Information

Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) was born in St Petersburg. He wrote his first literary works in Russian, but rose to international prominence as a masterly prose stylist for the novels he composed in English, most famously, Lolita. Between 1923 and 1940 he published novels, short stories, plays, poems and translations in the Russian language and established himself as one of the most outstanding Russian emigre writers.

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Review text

Another wholly different, baffling, brilliant book, full of word plays and tricky meanings. "Man's life as commentary to abstruse / Unfinished poem," writes the old poet, John Shade, in a long, personal, old-man's poem about life and death. Shade (happily married) and Charles Kinbote (homosexual) are teachers at Wordsmith College. What Kinbote does with Shade's poem, after Shade's death, supplies the kernel of the story - that, and what his deed does to him; and the whole development with its odd perversions and symbolisms is at times marvellously funny, often poignantly tragic. Perhaps, since the obscure symbolism forces the reader into reflecting Kinbote in a Kinbote-type, personal commentary, it would be unfair to give away more of the plot (if so it can be termed). The book is a box-within-boxes joke. Perhaps this is to be expected of Nabokov, as are also the dazzling flash of reversible meanings, puns, marvelously tangible writing, and cold, frightening resemblances to reality. Major publisher backing, for this is Nabokov's first novel written since Lolita. Count on intellectual snob appeal. (Kirkus Reviews)

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