Usually a book inspires a movie, but for German author Daniel Kehlmann, it was the other way around. “I love films that do not have one main character,” says Kehlmann, who was intrigued by how the separate narratives in both Magnolia (1999) and Babel (2006) intertwined. “I thought, ‘I want to do this in a novel.’ So the structure was first, all the themes and topics came afterward.” Throughout Fame, which is billed as “a novel in nine episodes,” the characters affect each other in big—and often unexpected—ways. In one story, a computer technician finds a more exciting life when strangers call his phone assuming he is someone named “Ralf,” and he decides to play along. In another, movie star Ralf Tanner wonders why he has stopped receiving phone calls. Feeling adrift, he enters an impersonation contest, only to be told he needs to work on his Ralf Tanner impression. While celebrity is a prominent theme in the novel, what really links the stories is the double lives the characters lead. “We cannot live without roles, minor and major acts of deceit and lies,” says Kehlmann. “Our electronic gadgets…help us to play out multiple identities. They don’t just make life, they also make leading double lives much easier.”
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Fame: A Novel in Nine Episodes
Daniel Kehlmann; translated by Carol Brown Janeway
Panetheon / September / 9780307378712 / $24.00