Alladaye, René. The Darker Shades of Pale Fire: An Investigation into a Literary Mystery. 2013

Bibliographic title
The Darker Shades of Pale Fire: An Investigation into a Literary Mystery
Publication year

ISBN: 9782356920935

"At the centre of Alladaye’s argument is his conviction that Holbein’s painting The Ambassadors is a key to unlocking the novel’s mysteries. Such a bold claim must be supported with evidence rigorously marshalled. It often is, and even the ultimately unconvinced will be struck by Alladaye’s ingenuity as he links details in the painting to Nabokov’s text." (David Rampton, review)


Half a century after its publication, Pale Fire, one of Vladimir Nabokov's most brilliant achievements, remains a literary mystery. Despite the richness of its critical history and the ingenuity of two generations of readers, the ongoing debate about its narrative structure and the identity of its narrator(s) still has not reached a definitive conclusion. This study chronicles the major stages of the novel's reception, from Mary McCarthy's groundbreaking review to Brian Boyd's striking metaphysical interpretation, and offers a critical assessment of the various theories put forward to account for the text's intricacies. This systematic analysis, which follows in the footsteps of Pierre Bayard and combines the methods of "detective criticism" with the use of the basic tools provided by narratology, leads to the refutation of a number of views and approaches to the novel, and induces a new exegesis resting on the central role played by a famous painting. The re-examination of the Pale Fire case generates a surprising solution to the novel's puzzle.