Sunday, July 22, 2018

Richard Flanagan - First Person (Chatto & Windus, 2017) ***

Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan can be highly recommended for his "Gould's Book Of Fish", and "The Narrow Road To The Deep North".

In "First Person" he tells the story of a young writer who sells his soul to a publishing company by willing to act as the ghost writer of a biography by a white collar criminal who is waiting for his trial. He is desparate for money, and accepts the deal to deliver the book in six weeks. Unfortunately, Siegfried Heidl, the book's subject, appears to be a very unpleasant, whimsical, erratic and uncooperative person ... and a liar. He creates quite some fog about his own history, leads the young writer in wrong directions, and with time pressing, the story becomes increasingly elusive.

Heidl is a con man, who fraudulently extracted $700 million from banks, and he keeps explaining to Kif Kehlmann, the ghost writer, how truth is nothing else than a story well told.

The story is extremely irritating. As it is to Kehlmann who does not make any progress. It is enervating, irritating, frustrating, discomforting, disheartening, ... Even if minor changes happen in the narrative, the core events are repetitive: meetings between Heidl and Kif where nothing is actually said, apart from clichés about truth and story-telling. And of course because of a lack of material, both protagonists' lives become to fuse on paper. Kif has no other choice than to fill in the blanks, creating a grey zone full of moral and personal confusion. Whose story is this in the end?

Is it recommended? Yes, if you have sufficient peace of mind for a narrative that keeps circling back to square one, if you are willing to go with the author and experience the narrative rather than just read it. No, if you are of the nervous type who want things to move forward, if you dislike being the victim of the author's cheap tricks to be played on you.

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