Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
To explain this gem of a novel in anything less than five or six pages, single-spaced, is to wildly underestimate what is going on here.
This author, best known for Lolita, goes well beyond the scope of that novel while displaying his ever precise and gloriously beautiful mastery of the language. Is he one of the best novelists ever? The brightest? The most cunning and crafty and poetical of the lot?
Perhaps. Indeed, likely. Proof, exhibit A: Pale Fire is based on a mostly autobiographical epic poem that he wrote as a character named Shade who died under mysterious circumstances. The man annotating the poem knew him and did, at first, an admirable job of breaking down and scholarly interpreting the work.
Let me say this. The poem is quite funny and evocative and smart as hell. It's also good. Very.
When this editor, this annotator starts on it, he sometimes makes an inappropriate comment or two and I tended to let it slide, thinking it funny and annoying and went back to enjoying the poem. Unfortunately, as the work progresses, this man keeps interrupting the poem in more serious ways, getting nitpicky, more personal, and even vindictive. This aspect of the novel pretty much takes over completely and we learn some VERY interesting aspects of both their lives.
The time is 1959 but the novel was published in '62. For fans of LGBTQ literature, both good and historical, I totally recommend this novel. The way it is handled is both tragic, unique, heartbreaking, and horrible to experience. The times were rather rough on artists and people with non-culturally standard desires. The things the poet did... well... just thrown in there between the lines... *shiver*
As I said, heartbreaking.
The end is like a hat-trick. We are forced to get used to the annotator going whole-hog on the nitpick and the scholarly schtik, so just when I'm almost fed-up, even the annotator breaks down...
And this is the most brilliant aspect of the novel. :)
I'm still reeling. What a glorious thing.
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