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Customer Review

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A young Austrian metafictionist, 20 May 2011
This review is from: Fame: A Novel in Nine Episodes (Hardcover)
'Fame' is Carol Brown Janeway's fluent translation of Daniel Kehlmann's 2008 novel 'Ruhm'. Kehlmann is probably the best-known young Austrian novelist.

Subtitled 'A novel in Nine Episodes', 'Fame' is short (175 pages in this translation, not 304 as stated: about 45-50,000 words, which in my eyes makes it novella length) and clearly written, which would make for a rapid read if one were inclined to skim.

Arguments about whether the book is really a novel or a series of linked short stories seem pointless: it's a postmodern fiction, owing something in its form to the likes of Calvino. Kehlmann structures his tale around recurring characters, in such a way that it isn't clear who is supposed to be at the centre of the story. This is completely in line with the book's central preoccupation, which is human identity, the extent to which it depends on the attention that we can command from others, and how this instability has been deepened in our own time by the electronic mediation and presentation of personality

Kehlmann's training in philosophy has obviously left its mark on his fiction, but he has a light touch. Much of the book involves a series of metafictional games in which the identity and ontological status of his characters is repeatedly called into question, sometimes in amusing ways but ultimately with a darker edge. Several of the characters are writers: but others may be characters, not just within Kehlmann's own fiction but within the fictions of these other, subordinate authorial figures. The reader is held off balance, not knowing where to invest.

This sort of thing is easy to mock, and readers who have little patience with metafiction will probably find the book annoying. I enjoyed it. Although I didn't think that Kehlmann was doing anything particularly novel, there is a complexity and seriousness here that emerges slowly as the 'episodes' prove to be linked in both obvious and more subtle ways. In the end, whatever one calls it, it's clearly one story: the resonance of the whole is more than that of any of the parts.

Recommended to anyone who wants to explore modern European fiction.
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Location: Wales, United Kingdom

Top Reviewer Ranking: 863