Thursday, April 17, 2014

P is for POINT OF VIEW (#Nabokov #PaleFire #atozchallenge)

"If I correctly understand the sense of this succinct observation, our poet suggests here that human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece." -- from PALE FIRE

Point of view is the "vantage point" from which a story is relayed to the reader. A story may unfold from one point of view or from multiple points of view.

Vladimir Nabokov's choices concerning point of view in his masterwork PALE FIRE have inspired a half-century or so of debate among scholars -- a fact amusing in itself, given the amount of space the novel devotes to the theme of academic and pseudo-academic obsession. This eternal, unresolvable debate may well have been Nabokov's intention.

Half a century after the novel's publication, the paper SHADE AND SHAPE IN PALE FIRE by Brian Boyd offers an overview of the intricate point-of-view arguments that PALE FIRE, my single favorite piece of fiction, still inspires.

"The longest-running and the fiercest disagreement in the interpretation of any of Nabokov's works has been over the internal authorship of PALE FIRE. Nabokov wrote the novel in 1960-1961, and published it in 1962, but Charles Kinbote signs the Foreword on October 19, 1959, after having also written the Commentary to John Shade's 999-line poem, "Pale Fire," [which is included as part of the text of the novel, and] which [Kinbote] reports was composed between July 2 and July 21, 1959. Kinbote has evidently also compiled the Index ... (S)ome critics have suggested that Shade seems in fact to have written the entire volume, not just the poem; others have argued instead that Kinbote wrote it all, poem included; still others maintain that Nabokov undermines the apparent dual authorship but deliberately leaves attributions unresolved, so that while there is evidence that either Shade or Kinbote could have written the whole, the reader, like someone looking at the perceptual psychologists' pet image, now sees duck, now rabbit, but cannot settle on a single stable response."

How many points of view does PALE FIRE encompass? This is one of the great literary riddles of the twentieth century, and I don't pretend to have the answer. Fascinating question, though.

If you haven't read this book yet, you should.

If you've only read it once, you should read it again.

And if you've read it twice ... you get the idea.

Book-as-narrative-maze is a special genre unto itself, and one not necessarily for every reader. Lots of people start this book and don't finish it. Yet somehow Nabokov's audacious, wildly risky story keeps popping up at or near the top of various lists of the greatest modern novels in English.

That is no accident. PALE FIRE is a singular triumph of the human imagination.

I don't think I'll be giving away any trade secrets by acknowledging that PALE FIRE was a major inspiration for my novel JIHADI: A LOVE STORY. But there need be, thank goodness, no endless debate over the number of points of view in my book. There are two.