Fame – Daniel Kehlmann

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Daniel Kehlmann plays with the idea of being noticed by the wider world–of fame, in all its irritating and intoxicating guises. His characters, woven into nine interconnected stories, are the playthings of the author, introspective ruminators, attached to fame, hooked up with fame, running from fame, inadvertently famous. Fame, the book, is satirical, world-weary, farcical, sad, wry, and packed with coincidence.  

A seventyish woman named Rosalie decides to end her life in a Swiss euthanasia clinic when she receives a diagnosis of advanced pancreatic cancer. She goes through all the steps to make arrangements and gets herself to Zurich, noticing every single thing that happens around her with hyper-awareness. But then she gets angry at the author and demands that he rewrite the story, producing a miracle cure and saving her the trouble of killing herself. A famous author plays with a loaded gun in his fabulous penthouse, after writing a cynical letter that debunks all the luminous spiritual self-help books that made his fame and fortune.

One man finally acquires a cell phone but the number belongs to someone else who receives constant calls and the phone company will do nothing to help him. So he begins to answer the calls, changing appointments, making dates with a mistress or girlfriend and standing her up time after time, messing up deals and playing havoc with the life of the apparently famous person whose calls he keeps getting. An actor plays an impersonator of himself as a joke and then loses his identity to the real impersonator who becomes him, moves into his home and career and takes on his celebrity.

Fame, in this translation from the original German, is very clever and very smart and raises serious questions about who we think we are, who we really are and who we might actually be. It’s also very European—Americans tend to a more straightforward acceptance of fame, when they are not lusting after it. But the absurdities and inconsistencies of fame, the profound alienation of living lies and the barbed privilege conferred by notoriety are worth reflection and Kehlmann provides that, too, in his odd little, very polished book.     

Fame: A Novel in Nine Episodes   Daniel Kehlmann | Pantheon Books   2010

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