This weekend I read Nabokov’s Pale Fire, a novel I’ve tried reading a couple of times before, and one of the books on my “I feel really embarrassed that I still haven’t read this and I’m a self identified intellectual” list.
I’m a convert.
An interesting experience for me in reading this through was that once I was done I became convinced that the reason I’d been unable to make much headway in it before was that I hadn’t been ready. It is a shock to think that my 26, and then 34 year old self wasn’t yet seasoned enough to “get” a novel, especially since I’ve always been a precocious reader who prided himself on his taste for the difficult ( “Anatomy of Melacholy” in college, “A Thousand Plateaus”, etc.). I think that what I wasn’t ready for was not the apparatus of the novel, but for the subtle and sobering emotions that waft through that apparatus, and would have been invisible to my puffed up, prideful younger self.
This book is a piece of art for adults, for people who are adult in a way that almost all of the rest of our culture no longer encourages us to aspire to.
It’s mournful, beautiful and unflinching.