I have come to this book with some trepidation, given that it has been recommended by some of the smartest people I know all of whom have told me it is a complex but highly rewarding read. Also the Introduction (which I didn’t read beyond the warning asking first time readers to skip it), the Acknowledgement that cites other books to explain Pale Fire, and the Forward written by Charles Kinbote is the unreliable narrator all have me alerted. I know already this is not a book I can casual read in bed as I am about to doze-off.
So here is my question. Kinbote suggests at the end of the Introduction to go out of sequence to read the Commentary first then go back to the four Cantos of the poem and cross reference. Is this the best way to approach this book? What are some of the experiences you have had in reading this book.
I have been hesitant in reading too many reviews or commentaries that may spoil my own discovery process, but don’t want to flounder through this either.
This book isn't as complex as it seems. It's certainly unusual, but you shouldn't worry too much about the footnotes and all; Nabokov's big joke is that the footnotes and introduction have nothing at all to do with the poem, as they are being written by a narcissistic sociopath who uses his position as "editor" as an excuse to tell a story of his own.
Like all of Nabokov's work, it does require your rapt attention (so maybe bed isn't the best place to read it), but it's not as daunting as it seems.
I agree with james m. in fact, you don't even really have to read the poem. just read the commentary. Better pieces of metafiction (in my opinion) are House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski and City of Saints and Madmen, by Jeff Vandermeer.
Don't worry. Just stick to the footnotes and read everything in the order the "unreliable narrator" suggests. It may seem strange to just keep going off on tangents, but just keep plugging. Enjoy!