Vladimir Nabokov's "Pale Fire"

I believe this is Nabokov's commentary on literary criticism. It comprises a foreword, an epic poem, a commentary, and an index. The main problem is that the commentary is not really about the poem, but it is about what the commentator wishes the poem had been. This is, of course, all part of the game, so don't think I'm complaining.

Many people think this is one of Nabokov's masterpieces. I liked it, but can't agree. Nabokov's masterpieces are (of those I have read) Lolita, Ada, and Bend Sinister; in that order, in my opinion. This is good, and humorous, and engaging, and mysterious, and well written, but its cleverness of form interferes with its effectiveness. For instance, the editor, one Charles Kinbote, is so blinded by his own vision of the work as to miss obvious interpretations of the poem until compiling the index. Yes, you are expected to read the index. No, it doesn't tell you where the crown jewels are hidden.

"What?" you ask, "The crown jewels?"

Exactly.

Serious fans of Nabokov should probably read this, and anybody who thinks Nabokov's works are limited to tales of sexual obsessions should definitely read this (not that there isn't any sexual obsession in it (the king, it seems, to the despair of his queen, prefers men) but it isn't as central as in other works), and anybody who thinks their commentary can add to or extend a text should probably read this, but the rest of you should wait for the movie.

2009.02.04 at 12:00am EST