Saturday, October 25, 2014

Review: "F" by Daniel Kehlmann

No matter the quality of his novels, Daniel Kehlmann always brings an odd originality to the books that he writes. They are quirky but never so much so that they don’t carry real weight. It is real hard for me to pinpoint an underlying theme in any of his books, but that never messes with my enjoyment of his books. At his best, like in the novel Fame, he is writing in the spirit of mid-career Auster, using stories within stories to pontificate on truth and coincidence in everyday life. At his worst, he can overwrite things and be too esoteric to bridge the cultural divide between America and his native Germany. His new translated novel, F, is somewhere in the middle of Kehlmann’s talents. It contains some of his best work, especially the opening scene, but seems to lose steam and direction once action begins to move forward in the story. It has a hilarious, but a heartbreaking concept at the center of the narrative. Arthur Friedland, failed author and failed father, is taking his three sons, from two different wives, to a performance by The Great Lindemann. An overbearing skeptic, Arthur volunteers to be hypnotized, and when he does, he abandons his three sons in the middle of the drive back to move to America and pursue his dreams uninterrupted. All three grow up to lead miserable lives, as a priest without faith, an investment banker who is bad with money and a painter who paints forgeries. Arthur comes back into their lives, with disastrous results. There are some really cool scenes here that may lack any depth, but are cool anyways, like the opening hypnosis scene, and reason the son went into priesthood, which is painfully funny. But the story somewhat goes off the rails once everyone is introduced, with Kehlmann using a device similar to what Paul Auster used in novel like Oracle Night and Invisible. Despite that, this a cool, swift ride into absurdity from an author who is destined to be an international sensation.

Rating: 4/5

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