FAME: A NOVEL IN NINE EPISODES by Daniel Kehlmann
â€śYouâ€™re asking yourself why so many things arenâ€™t doable, dear sir? Because a man wishes to be many things. In the literal sense of the word. He wishes to be multiple. Diverse. Heâ€™d like to have several lives. But only superficially, not deep down. The ultimate aspiration, dear friend, is to become one. One with oneself, one with the universe.â€ť
Review by Doug Bruns (SEP 14, 2010)
I was recently talking to my nephew. Heâ€™s a new college freshman and was heading off to school. â€śDo you ever think about reinventing yourself,â€ť I asked him. I was making dinner and he was sitting in the kitchen, keeping me company. His mouth dropped open and his eyes grew wide when I asked him the question. â€śI mean,â€ť I continued, â€śyou are going to a place where you are not known by anyone. You have no biography. You can be whatever and whomever you wish to be. Have you thought about that?â€ť He nodded his head. â€śI think about it all the time,â€ť he confessed.
I was reminded of this recent exchange while reading Daniel Kehlmannâ€™s new book, Fame, as translated from the German original by Carol Brown Janeway. This little book, subtitled, â€śA Novel in Nine Episodes,â€ť is a gem of introspection, as multiple characters, all with a degree or less of fame hinged to their name, weave in and out of life manifesting all manner and sorts of chameleonesque behavior. Their biographies are fluid and interdependent and never seem set. For example, there is Ebling, the protagonist of the first â€śepisodeâ€ť entitled, Voices. Ebling has just returned home with his new cell phone, when the phone rings. â€śVery hesitantly, he picked up. A woman asked for someone called Raff, Ralf, or Rauff, he couldnâ€™t figure out the name. A mistake, he said, wrong number. She apologized and hung up.â€ť The situation continues. The phone keeps ringing, the same woman, then others, men and women, call asking for Ralf. It is soon apparent that Ebling was given Ralfâ€™s number by mistake. The phone company, in a Kafkaesque twist, denies the possibility. Ebling decides to run with it, to accept the calls, to become, in essence Ralf. Ebling, who, as a character, remains somewhat a mystery to us, becomes someone else, Ralf.
For every action there is a reaction. It is a truism in physics, as it is good literature. The hapless Ralf, a famous actor, we discover a few episodes later, losses his identity, though he cannot fathom why. It has been stolen by Ebling, who in taking his calls and impersonating him, has rendered his identity, his career and his very future, moot.
Fame, as the subtitle describes, is a novel in nine episodes. Each episode refreshingly stands alone as a nicely polished gem, like a collection of short stories. There is, besides Ebling and Ralf, Rosalie who has a terminal disease, Maria Rubinstein, a writer of popular books who becomes lost in China during a book tour, Auristos Blanco, a writer of self-help books, â€śvenerated by half the planet and mildly despised by the other.â€ť We also meet Leo Richter, a writer of serious fiction. Leo invented Rosalie from the perviously noted episode: â€śRosalie, whatâ€™s happening to you here is what youâ€™re for. Thatâ€™s why I invented you.â€ť Leo, himself a personality of questionable ontological viability, takes up with a woman who reminds him of one of his story characters, a woman who fears becoming one of his characters. Later they both encounter her, the character, Lara Gaspard. Along the way, we also meet an internet blogger and, later, his boss. They both work for the phone company, the phone company that happened to mix up the number given to Ebling and in doing so erased Ralfâ€™s very existence.
From the brief description here, one might worry–hope?–that Fame is an exercise in that bygone literary sport, referred to as post-modern metafiction, that self-referencing double-coding style pioneered by Barth and Fowles, Pynchon, Vonnegut and the gang. It is, to some extent, the case. One cannot but read these story-episodes and not reason it so. They, the stories, wind back, one upon the other. Occasionally the–an?–author peeks out from behind the curtain and waves to the audience. Hello! But where the post-modern novel tends to confuse and exasperate, Fame constructs and entertains. Kehlmann, writing well within the modern tradition, that is, good straight story telling, does so in a fashion that incorporates what the literary artist experienced and has practiced through the modern period–which is, as fictional self-referencing, author Leo Richter explains toward the end of Fame: â€śWeâ€™re always in storiesâ€¦.Stories within stories. You never know where one ends and another begins! In truth, they all flow into one another. Itâ€™s only in books that theyâ€™re clearly divided.â€ť
As â€śa novel in nine episodesâ€ť Fame succeeds on both counts. The novel is clever, insightful and wonderfully understated; the nine episodes are crystalized brilliant narratives. Fame is a surprise and wonderfully refreshing, in structure, content and style.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 3 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Pantheon (September 14, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Daniel Kehlmann (in German)
Wikipedia page on Daniel Kehlmann
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:|
- Me and Kaminski (2003; 2008 in US)
- Measuring the World (2005; 2006 in US)
- Fame: A Novel in Nine Episodes (2009; September 2010 in US)