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One of the most intricately crafted novels of all time, Pale Fire consists of an epic poem and the narrator's "academic" footnotes to same.

The narrator is a college professor in "Appalachia, USA," and the poem (the only fair copy of which the narrator takes into hiding with him) was written by a recently murdered colleague. The narrator is also totally insane, and sees in his friend's pastoral account of mid-20th century family life clues about his own delusional situation. He claims to be royalty in exile from a nonexistent far-off land and feels sure that his friend's assassin had been after him.

Thus the footnotes take over the work and twist its simple message into a vast tale of paranoia from the vantage point of a woman-hating, vegetarian, suicidal academic on the verge of total breakdown.

A perfect example of Nabokov's famed wit and skill with prose (he wrote this one in English, by the way), Pale Fire comes highly recommended. It's also a fairly quick read, terribly funny, and accessible to anyone who's experienced college literature training. I'd recommend it as a first foray for those who've not yet had the joy of reading one of the greatest prose stylists of any age.

Interesting to me that I didn't even really comment on the poetry but sang the praises of the prose only. Well done, kwyjibo, you're quite right about the poem as well.