Sunday, 5 April 2015

Review: Pale Fire

"Come and be worshiped, come and be caressed,
My dark Vanessa, crimson-barred, my blest
My Admirable butterfly! Explain
How could you, in the gloam of Lilac Lane,
Have let uncouth, hysterical John Shade
Blubber your face, and ear, and shoulder blade?"

Title: Pale Fire
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Genre: Modern Classic
Year: 1962
Pages: 315

I don’t like writing reviews about novels that disappointed me greatly. That’s why this review will be short.

The premise is interesting: There’s a poem, but the real novel actually consists of the commentary written by someone other than the poet.

Then you start reading the poem. It’s quite interesting and follows the author’s thoughts about his recently lost daughter. After a while, though, you start to wonder whether you should perhaps flip back and forth, between the notes and the poem. So you start again. Read the first four lines. Then the commentary on those lines. You realise the author of the notes starts to wander off to a story about himself. Not uninteresting, but irrelevant. You continue until you notice that in fact, the commentary has very little to nothing to do with the poem. So you start again. You read the poem. You read the commentary. You treat them as autonomous works of art.

While I was convinced this was, to me, the best solution to get something out of this book, it still didn’t do it for me. The poem was okay but perhaps too straight forward. At points, it was written as if the author was just putting his thoughts to paper, and then suddenly realised ‘wait, I’m writing a poem, I should use complicated words and constructions’.

As for the commentary, I was already too annoyed with the form to enjoy this. It’s a fantastic story about a king in Zembla. Honestly, I didn’t care for any of the characters, and I couldn’t be bothered to even try to understand what was going on half of the time.   

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