I love it when a piece of art is so great that I don’t fully understand what it is, but I know it’s really good and really cool. The movie Blade Runner 2049 was like that for me. Director Denis Villeneuve always impresses and entertains, and his take on the Blade Runner world was great. I can’t wait to see what he does with Dune.
While trying to learn more about Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, I learned that Nabokov’s Pale Fire was included overtly and subtle in the movie (thanks IMDB trivia). I grabbed the book when I saw it sitting on the shelf at Half-Price Books. Like the movie that utilized it, Pale Fire is cool and deep and an impressive example of a virtuoso at the top of his game. Also, I’m not sure that I completely got it! (I’m ok with that – there are entire books published by experts trying to decode this novel.)
It’s probably impossible to meaningfully discuss Pale Fire without talking about it on some kind of meta-level. “Pale Fire” is the name of a 999-line poem written by “John Shade”, but this book is more than just that. Shade’s poem comes with a forward/footnotes/index written by a colleague, “Charles Kinbote”. The poem itself works as a poem and a sort of narrative of the life of John Shade, and the extra material tells what is either the same story as understood by Kinbote, or a different thing entirely. You can read the poem with the footnotes, or read them on their own. I chose to read it front to back, although I’m curious to know what the experience is like to flip back and forth between the poem and the notes.
I can’t give this 5 stars because while I was impressed with Pale Fire, I didn’t quite get it. Nonetheless, even I know enough to tell this is an example of a master at work. How does something work on so many levels?