©2023 Fable Group Inc.

Pale Fire

By Vladimir Nabokov
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov digital book - Fable

Why read on Fable?

Discover social reading

Chat inside the ebook with emojis, comments and more

Annotate with notes, tabs, and highlights

Share or keep your notes private with our annotation features

Support the World Literacy Foundation

We donate 20% of every book sale to help children learn to read

Publisher Description

A darkly comic novel of suspense, literary idolatry and one-upmanship, and political intrigue from one of the leading writers of the twentieth century, the acclaimed author of Lolita.

"Half-poem, half-prose...a creation of perfect beauty, symmetry, strangeness, originality and moral truth. One of the great works of art of this century." —Mary McCarthy, New York Times bestselling author of The Group

An ingeniously constructed parody of detective fiction and learned commentary, Pale Fire offers a cornucopia of deceptive pleasures, at the center of which is a 999-line poem written by the literary genius John Shade just before his death. Surrounding the poem is a foreword and commentary by the demented scholar Charles Kinbote, who interweaves adoring literary analysis with the fantastical tale of an assassin from the land of Zembla in pursuit of a deposed king. Brilliantly constructed and wildly inventive, Vladimir Nabokov's witty novel achieves that rarest of things in literature—perfect tragicomic balance.

28 Reviews

“Nabokov ran so Donna Tartt could walk”
“This is a book that I can say that I like but that I would not really recommend reading. Seems contradictory, but it feels as if it was not written to be enjoyed, so much as to add to the library of literary devices. We get a poem, by a recently deceased poet, and the extensive annotations by his friend and fellow academic. Very quickly, the trip of unreliable narrator is signaled, and then comes a sort of meta-expansion of that notion. The notes become highly personal and specific, resulting in a sort of murder mystery. Honestly, I feel like it sounds more fun than it is. Clearly, it’s genius, but not the kind of genius that passes a day in delight; not that all books must, but, still, this one did not.”
“Nabokov is a genius and finishing one of his books always makes me want to pick up another. Such a dark twisted plot disguised by beautifully romanticised language and humour.”
“100% hands down my favorite book of all time”
“Pale Fire makes all the writers in the world look bad. One part beautiful poetry, the other part a manic analysis of it. Nabokov is able to create a beautiful poem that meditates upon death, the afterlife, and the fear of being forgotten that is authentic enough to be from himself rather than from the point of view of a fictional character. The poem itself is heartfelt and touching as it is existential about what it means to have lived a meaningful life that has experienced tragedy in-between. It's heartfelt. It's worded soundly, with such profound lines such as: "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain By the false azure in the window pane" But Nobakov manages to find a way to make this even better in a way that comically mocks scholarly literary criticism; through careful deliberation of every line in the 999 line cantos, through the point of view of an insane fan, he annotates the poem to find meaning that doesn't exist. The reason why the book is so long is that the rest of the pages following the poem are footnotes that analyze the poem that tell a story in itself, through connections. The connections are tangible at best and rambling and comically wrong at its worst. Through the extensive use of footnotes, he manages to tell multiple stories that are spurred off a few lines of poetry that barely connect - one a random kingdom that may not exist, another about his experiences with the author himself, and what leads to the author's demise. He is able to defile an "autobiographical" poem in a way that enhances the reading experience without taking away the brilliance of the former. If the poem was anything less than okay or even slightly tongue in cheek, the book would have lost its impact. For the book to work as a whole, every part had to be great. It is through the critique of literary analysis that the book's nature shines: creating a memorable poem first that could be read on its own and a memorable experience that pokes fun at what was written. I am not usually a fan of poetry - having read much of Shakespeare and having taken a chance on Sylvia Plath's poems as well, much to my disappointment. Pale Fire's poem was one of the few to actually move me emotionally, as well as impress me. He made a poem that is touching in his third language (with difficult vocabulary) and may as well have been a joke. This book has multiple layers to it - the forward, the poem itself, the annotations (which make the bulk of a novel), and the index - all equally brilliant in of itself. Nobakov is able to make every sentence dense with allusions, such rich vocabulary, and a poetic structure. It is not an easy book to read, but it is a rewarding experience to have read. It may be a book that I appreciated more than I enjoyed, but those feelings are incredibly close together.”

About Vladimir Nabokov

VLADIMIR VLADIMIROVICH NABOKOV was born on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Nabokovs were known for their high culture and commitment to public service, and the elder Nabokov was an outspoken opponent of antisemitism and one of the leaders of the opposition party, the Kadets. In 1919, following the Bolshevik revolution, he took his family into exile. Four years later he was shot and killed at a political rally in Berlin while trying to shield the speaker from right-wing assassins.

The Nabokov household was trilingual, and as a child Nabokov was already reading Wells, Poe, Browning, Keats, Flaubert, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Tolstoy, and Chekhov, alongside the popular entertainments of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne. As a young man, he studied Slavic and romance languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking his honors degree in 1922. For the next eighteen years he lived in Berlin and Paris, writing prolifically in Russian under the pseudonym Sirin and supporting himself through translations, lessons in English and tennis, and by composing the first crossword puzzles in Russian. In 1925 he married Vera Slonim, with whom he had one child, a son, Dmitri.

Having already fled Russia and Germany, Nabokov became a refugee once more in 1940, when he was forced to leave France for the United States. There he taught at Wellesley, Harvard, and Cornell. He also gave up writing in Russian and began composing fiction in English. In his afterword to Lolita he claimed: "My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody's concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English, devoid of any of those apparatuses–the baffling mirror, the black velvet backdrop, the implied associations and traditions–which the native illusionist, frac-tails flying, can magically use to transcend the heritage in his own way." [p. 317] Yet Nabokov's American period saw the creation of what are arguably his greatest works, Bend Sinister (1947), Lolita (1955), Pnin (1957), and Pale Fire (1962), as well as the translation of his earlier Russian novels into English. He also undertook English translations of works by Lermontov and Pushkin and wrote several books of criticism. Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1977.

Start a Book Club

Start a public or private book club with this book on the Fable app today!


Do I have to buy the ebook to participate in a book club?

Why can’t I buy the ebook on the app?

How is Fable’s reader different from Kindle?

Do you sell physical books too?

Are book clubs free to join on Fable?

How do I start a book club with this book on Fable?

Error Icon
Save to a list
Private List
Private lists are not visible to other Fable users on your public profile.
Notification Icon