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Nabokov's "Pale Fire"

The Magic of Artistic Discovery

Paperback Published: 4th November 2001
ISBN: 9780691089577
Number Of Pages: 320

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"Pale Fire" is regarded by many as Vladimir Nabokov's masterpiece. The novel has been hailed as one of the most striking early examples of postmodernism and has become a famous test case for theories about reading because of the apparent impossibility of deciding between several radically different interpretations. Does the book have two narrators, as it first appears, or one? How much is fantasy and how much is reality? Whose fantasy and whose reality are they? Brian Boyd, Nabokov's biographer and hitherto the foremost proponent of the idea that "Pale Fire" has one narrator, John Shade, now rejects this position and presents a new and startlingly different solution that will permanently shift the nature of critical debate on the novel. Boyd argues that the book does indeed have two narrators, Shade and Charles Kinbote, but reveals that Kinbote had some strange and highly surprising help in writing his sections. In light of this interpretation," Pale Fire" now looks distinctly less postmodern--and more interesting than ever.

In presenting his arguments, Boyd shows how Nabokov designed "Pale Fire" for readers to make surprising discoveries on a first reading and even more surprising discoveries on subsequent readings by following carefully prepared clues within the novel. Boyd leads the reader step-by-step through the book, gradually revealing the profound relationship between Nabokov's ethics, aesthetics, epistemology, and metaphysics. If Nabokov has generously planned the novel to be accessible on a first reading and yet to incorporate successive vistas of surprise, Boyd argues, it is because he thinks a deep generosity lies behind the inexhaustibility, complexity, and mystery of the world. Boyd also shows how Nabokov's interest in discovery springs in part from his work as a scientist and scholar, and draws comparisons between the processes of readerly and scientific discovery.

This is a profound, provocative, and compelling reinterpretation of one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century.

Industry Reviews

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2000 "My award for Novel of the Century goes to Nabokov's Pale Fire ...The book that prompted these reflections and confirmed me in my choice for Novel of the Century was Brian Boyd's remarkable, obsessive, delirious, devotional study..."--Ron Rosenbaum, New York Observer "It seems impossible for any scholar to write about Pale Fire, Nabokov's novel disguised as a poem and a pseudo-scholarly consideration of that poem, without appearing to be offering a mimicry of the great work. Nabokov's Pale Fire is no exception. Writing with an intensity that would suit Pale Fire's own narrators, Brian Boyd, a leading authority on Nabokov, gives an exquisitely detailed reading of the book and advances a new thesis about which fictional character (or characters) is supposed to have written the book."--Publishers Weekly "Brian Boyd's strength as a critic ... is that his compendious knowledge of Nabokov's biography and writings, especially those in English, is matched by his level-headedness and attention to detail."--Catriona Kelly, Times Literary Supplement "[Boyd] is far and away Nabokov's best-informed and most subtle critic... [He] bases his new interpretation on a staggering wealth of textual and extratextual detail and is clearly right on every major argument."--Choice "A readable, elegantly written and witty guide through [the] process of discovery to which Nabokov himself invariably invites us, in what is arguably his finest novel..."--Helen McLean, The Globe and Mail "This critical study ... is not merely a brilliant search for the 'truth' of Pale Fire--it is also a study of the way we read texts and think about existence."--Irving Malin, Review of Contemporary Fiction "[E]ye-opening... Boyd's singular reading ... suggests a novel that is in fact startlingly harmonious, one in which life and death blend in seamless unity."--Daniel Zalewski, New York Times Book Review "Writing with an intensity that would suit Pale Fire's own narrators, Brian Boyd, a leading authority on Nabokov, gives an exquisitely detailed reading of the book."--Publishers Weekly "This startling new theory is not only hard to refute--it makes it impossible for anyone to see Pale Fire under the same light... For the discoveries that lie ahead we are now indebted to Boyd's scrupulous research and pertinent interpretation. Nabokov's Pale Fire: The Magic of Artistic Discovery is truly the essential companion/mode d'emploi to one of the greatest masterpieces of the 20th century."--Alexandre O. Philippe, Bloomsbury Review "Boyd's Pale Fire will change how we read Nabokov's. Boyd brilliantly shows the intensity with which the three parts of the novel 'recall' one another... Above all, Nabokov's Pale Fire is a manifesto for close reading. There can be no better recommendation than that."--Eric Naiman, Slavic Review

Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introductionp. 3
Thesis: Reading Story as Discoveryp. 15
Forewordp. 17
Poemp. 25
Commentaryp. 37
Indexp. 63
Pale Firep. 67
Antithesis: Rereading In Search of the Story Behindp. 75
Intrusions of the Real: Shadep. 77
Excursions from the Real: Kinbotep. 89
Problems: Shade and Kinbotep. 107
Synthesis: Re-Rereading Discovery as Storyp. 127
Transformationp. 129
From Appalachia to Zembla: A Woman Spurnedp. 149
"Pale Fire": Origins and Endsp. 173
"A Poem in Four Cantos": Sign and Designp. 188
From Zembla to Appalachia: The Contrapuntal Themep. 207
"Pale Fire," Pale Fire, pale fire: The Spiral Unwindsp. 233
Conclusionp. 247
Notesp. 263
Bibliographyp. 291
Indexp. 299
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 9780691089577
ISBN-10: 0691089574
Audience: Tertiary; University or College
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 320
Published: 4th November 2001
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 23.44 x 15.52  x 2.06
Weight (kg): 0.45