Pale Fire had been on my to-reread list for ages, and then a few months ago I found the very edition I’d previously read—my father’s, a 1975 Berkley Medallion mass market paperback—on the 50-cent rack at Housing Works. SCORESVILLE USA!!!
Gosh, golly, goodness, this may be—certainly in terms of structure—the most amazing novel ever written. It begins with a 999-line poem in rhyming couplets, written from the point of view of an aging American poet, John Shade, reflecting on his life: his childhood; his love for his wife; the sad, short life of his daughter. The remainder of the book is commentary on the poem by Shade’s crazy neighbor, Charles Kinbote, who may or may not be the exiled king of the vaguely Slavic country of Zembla, and who uses the slightest pretext to spin his own story from the unrelated words of Shade’s magnum opus.
Pale Fire is ambitious, funny, weird, heartbreaking, and—to use a diluted word in its original strength—unique. I suppose there might be people out there who find Nabokov’s hyperliterate, wordy, playful prose difficult or annoying, but I just want to cram it into my mouth while saying OM NOM NOM. His writing just tastes good, like a cherry tomato just off the vine, warm from the sun—or like a curry with two dozen ingredients. Just pure joy.