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Pale Fire

Pale Fire, tour de force

shade nabokov novel poem

a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, published in 1962. Pale Fire is Nabokov's fictional tour de force, a ‘novel’ comprising the foreword to a 999-line poem, ‘Pale Fire’ by John Shade, the text of the poem itself, a commentary on the poem by Charles Kinbote, Shade's editor, and an index. The commentary forms by far the longest part of the novel and it is here that Kinbote, who had befriended Shade, his neighbour, over the past few months of Shade's life, purporting to offer a disinterested exegesis and interpretation of the poem provides, instead, a veiled, self-serving autobiography and a biographical allegory about the exiled King of Zembla (‘a distant northern land’ which one takes to be Nabokov's Russia). In part the novel is a sustained parody of academic scholarship, but it is also one of Nabokov's most philosophical and metaphysical works and one in which his meditations on the fictional universe and its ambiguous relationship to ‘reality’ find their most penetrating and imaginative expression. The novel is considered one of the most important and formative works of American post-modernism, notably for its use of a wholly unreliable narrator, and has been the subject of extensive commentary.

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