Whimsical road trip is a delight

2009-03-11 00:00

Me and Kaminski, by Daniel Kehlmann (Translated by Carol Brown Janeway), Quercus

“Reality changes with every glance, at every second. Perspective is an assemblage of rules that tries to trap all this chaos onto one flat surface. No more, no less.”

So says Manuel Kaminski, reclusive and famous artist, to his would-be biographer Sebastian Zollner on their impromptu road trip. This concept epitomises the approach novelist David Kehlmann has taken in his whimsical look at celebrity in general, and one man’s search for it in particular.

Sebastian Zollner is not very good at the number of jobs he’s had so far in his young life. He didn’t last long in advertising and, as an art critic, he only said nice things about the artists so that he could be invited to more galleries. So he decides to branch out into writing art biographies, and retraces the footsteps of Manuel Kaminski, who has been famous, then not famous, and may be famous again if Zollner plays his cards right.

Zollner, as first-person narrator, tells us the story from his very biased perspective. When he describes how he makes his way into Kaminski’s hideaway in the Alps, we might believe how pleased everyone is to see him, at first. But then the ironic authorial voice lets us know that Zollner is trapping his set of facts onto his own uniquely flat surface.

Zollner has always used his rather insensitive manners to make his way in a hostile world, even ignoring the fact that his girlfriend has dumped him and moved her new lover into their apartment, for example. He then engineers an abduction of the ailing and apparently blind Kaminski and takes him on a road trip to find the former love of his life. Zollner hopes to create a dramatic end to his imagined biography.

However, Zollner finds himself less in need of a fitting climax to his story than he is in need of a friend.

I loved Me and Kaminski. Kehlmann writes with sparseness, immediacy and an ironic intelligence. It’s a joy to read a work from someone who makes every word count. This is a delightful romp of a novel.

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