Phi Fic #5 “Pale Fire” by Vladimir Nabokov

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

So, you think Lolita was Nabokov’s best? We humbly submit a solid contender. Cezary, in his wisdom, suggested the book for this episode: Pale Fire. Structured as a 999-line poem followed by an extensive afterword and index, Pale Fire has been described by the critic Harold Bloom as “the surest demonstration of [Nabokov’s] genius…”

Join us as Cezary kicks it off with an excellent overview, and Nathan connects the mystery of the main character Charles Kinbote with the disorder of Batman’s Joker and how the anarchy of each of them belies their world order. The rest of us—Mary, Daniel and Laura—just sort of “ooh” and “ahh” about the beauty and sheer poetry of what has been called not just one of the top 100 English-language novels of all time but, according to the critic Larry MaCaffery, perhaps the number one.

Buy the book.

Thanks to Christopher Nolen for our music.

If you have thoughts, recommendations, or questions that you want to send our way, please do via

6 thoughts on “Phi Fic #5 “Pale Fire” by Vladimir Nabokov

  1. Thanks for listening Salvatore and I’m so sorry there were technical problems. Will check with our audio guy and hopefully will fix the issue.



  2. Hi folks,

    Laurel, myrtle and bay… may be out of season but you have earned a bouquet if not a wreath of ovation. Heard barely two programmes: this, and the one on Aristotle holding forth on friendship. I found both very entertaining and enlightening. Your free-flowing, conversational, endearingly jokey, mode of presentation deserves to be patented, branded, and sold to the classrooms of Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Harvard. Stanford, and the hallowed cathedrals of Vatican. Thou shalt not bore thy captive listeners.
    As a sound engineer manqué, and an amateur voice coach, I’d urge you to monitor the audio quality. Since nobody is consuming your podcasts in a soundproof studio— audibility and intelligiblity is absolutely essential. I found the female voice rather scratchy and unintelligible. She and her mike could have benefited from a little fine tuning.

    Select voices for clarity and differentiation. Remember Ben Jonson’s rubric: Oratio, imago, animi…Speak that I may see you !


  3. Yeah, ‘Pale Fire’ IS ‘an amazing ride’. I’ve read and loved Nabokov for forty years but I remember the thrill of ‘Pale Fire’ when it was recommended by a friend in 1977. (I can see that battered library hardback in my hands.) As a Russian aristocrat, an author and a scholar, Nabokov could have come to the US, settled in a cultured expatriate enclave and looked down his nose. Instead, he spent much of his time exploring the America’s national parks and embracing the language and culture; the result was ‘Lolita’ and ‘Pale Fire’. What books and what very American books they are, says this Aussie. (I’m not an insomniac; it’s 6.20 pm here.)


  4. Sorry, I didn’t say how much I enjoyed your discussion. ‘Deconstruction’ is bunk; real literary criticism is about delight. Thank you.


    1. Glad to hear that you found us worth your time, Richard. Pale Fire was a formidable book. I had the feeling I could’ve spent the better part of a year getting lost in its secrets. Thanks for the kind words.


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