Pale Fire, As Seen In 1962

If forced to pick, I’d have to say that Vladimir Nabokov is my favorite writer; he’s someone who rereading after rereading shows me something new and intricately beautiful.

One of my favorite novels of his is ‘Pale Fire’ – a tragic satire on art in the academy, on political power and loss, and on our ability to spin magic life out of words.

TNR just reposted Mary McCarthy’s brilliant review from 1962 online (h/t Mickey Kaus)

Pale Fire is a Jack-in-the-box, a Faberge gem, a clockwork toy, a chess problem, an infernal machine, a trap to catch reviewers, a cat-and-mouse game, a do-it-yourself novel. It consists of a 999-line poem of four cantos in heroic couplets together with an editor’s preface, notes, index, and proof-corrections. When the separate parts are assembled, according to the manufacturer’s directions, and fitted together with the help of clues and cross-references, which must be hunted down as in a paper-chase, a novel on several levels is revealed, and these “levels” are not the customary “levels of meaning” of modernist criticism but planes in a fictive space, rather like those houses of memory in medieval mnemonic science, where words, facts, and numbers were stored till wanted in various rooms and attics, or like the Houses of astrology into which the heavens are divided.

…read the whole thing, and then go buy the book.

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