A brazen take on the modern yearning for recognition. Kehlmann is a writer worth reading.

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FAME

From German author Kehlmann (Me and Kaminski, 2008, etc.), nine interconnected stories that cleverly explore the seductive nature of fame—and fiction’s role in creating it.

Notoriety as both a blessing and (more often) a curse is the thread holding together the disparate episodes in this darkly comic tour de force, beginning with the opener, “Voices.” In it, a middle-aged technician buys a cell phone and is secretly thrilled to intercept the calls intended for another man, one leading a considerably more exciting life. German movie star Ralf Tanner, on the other hand, longs for obscurity, and finds giving up his identity far easier than he would have expected, by becoming his own impersonator. Gutsy Elisabeth, a physician for Doctors Without Borders, is dismayed at the thought that her new lover, the neurotic writer Leo Richter, will use her experiences in his work. Leo, an apparent stand-in for the author himself, is in turn accosted in a hotel by an unkempt young man desperate to be a story subject. The fan later posts the details of their awkward encounter on a celebrity blog. A popular mystery writer who fills in for Richter on a press junket becomes trapped in a Kafka-esque nightmare in a Central Asian post-Soviet hellhole where no one knows her. And in “Rosalie Goes Off to Die,” an elderly woman en route to a Swiss euthanasia clinic bargains not with God, but with her actual creator, the writer, to intercede on her behalf. The wheels-within-wheels keep spinning as more implausible connections are made, culminating in a surprise ending that we should have seen all along. Although there is a certain gleeful cruelty to the way Kehlmann treats many of his characters, he never spares himself. But when he describes Richter’s talent as “empty virtuosity,” one wonders who the joke is really on. Empty, he’s not.

A brazen take on the modern yearning for recognition. Kehlmann is a writer worth reading.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-37871-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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