Though tagged as "a novel" in the subtitle, Fame by Daniel Kehlmann is not a novel. It’s a wonderful collection of nine surreal, droll, loosely-linked literary short stories.
Kehlmann’s stories deal with identity and celebrity. They hint at what it might mean to be a celebrated author – as Kehlmann is – without ever suggesting that he has run out of material, as is sometimes the case when an author gives up the day job and starts to write about a main character who is a frustrated, lonely novelist with writer’s block. Kehlmann’s stories give a wry insight into the implications of impersonating someone else, or at least trying to be something that one is not.
In the most memorable story, East, a woman gets stuck in a foreign country after subsituting for a fellow author at the last minute on a cultural trip. It reminded me somewhat of The Man Who Liked Dickens by Evelyn Waugh, the bleak, disturbing short story that was used as a basis for part of his novel, A Handful of Dust.
In other stories, an unpopular employee disgraces himself at a conference; a man insinuates himself into another’s life and takes control of it – with disastrous consequences – when he is given access to his mobile phone messages; and a famous actor fails to measure up against an impersonator.
Daniel Kehlmann writes in German. Fame is translated by Carol Brown Janeway. She has translated two others of his books, as well as The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, and her work is sensitive and restrained.
This book is one of my top picks of the last six months. It will be published in paperback in the US in November 2011. Highly recommended.
You can buy it online from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.