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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

F

by
Daniel Kehlmann


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase F



Title: F
Author: Daniel Kehlmann
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 380 pages
Original in: German
Availability: F - US
F - UK
F - Canada
F - India
F - Deutschland
  • German title: F
  • Translated by Carol Janeway

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely done, and quite entertaining

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 14/11/2014 Julius Purcell
FAZ . 27/8/2013 Felicitas von Lovenberg
The Guardian A 6/11/2014 Simon Ings
NZZ . 7/9/2013 Andreas Breitenstein
The NY Times Book Rev. . 2/11/2014 Joseph Salvatore
San Francisco Chronicle . 18/9/2014 Jan Stuart
The Telegraph A 6/11/2014 Toby Lichtig
TLS A+ 3/10/2014 John Burnside
Die Welt . 30/8/2013 Richard Kämmerlings


  From the Reviews:
  • "Lacing comedy with menace, Kehlmann revels in a series of ingenious set pieces (.....) Details are crisp yet cryptic." - Julius Purcell, Financial Times

  • "Nun gehören raffinierte gedankliche Experimente und große philosophische Fragestellungen seit jeher zu Kehlmanns Werken. Nie zuvor aber hat der Schriftsteller die doppelten Böden so lässig aufgefächert wie jetzt in F." - Felicitas von Lovenberg, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "The point of F is not its humour (though Kehlmann, like Robbe-Grillet, can be very funny indeed), but its generosity. (...) Fame was knowing, driven by its own absurdity. F is about the world’s absurdity, and this makes a huge difference morally. The world is big, and ultimately unknowable, and life is short and memory pitifully limited." - Simon Ings, The Guardian

  • "F ist ein tempo-, geist- und trickreiches Stück Slapstick-Literatur über die seelische Krise unserer Epoche, das seinen tieferen Bedeutungsanspruch jedoch nicht einzulösen vermag. Brillant ist die Zeitgeistanalyse und ätzend die Persiflage auf den Kulturbetrieb, klug die Gedankenführung und witzig der Wust an Anspielungen, doch zieht man all das Smarte ab, hat Kehlmann nicht viel zu erzählen." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "(I)n Daniel Kehlmann’s subtly yet masterly constructed puzzle cube of a new novel, readers and characters alike exist for a time in that hazy, uncertain land, where there is not only the desire but the need to solve for x -- or, in Kehlmann’s case, "F" -- a need to assign value, to accord meaning, to map connections, to know the mind of the creator." - Joseph Salvatore, The New York Times Book Review

  • "F is a lollapalooza of a family comedy, diabolically intricate in its layering of concurrent narratives and dryly hilarious at every mazelike turn. (...) F is splashed with vivacious, hilarious characters and incidents that, with distance and time, transmogrify into something quite sinister indeed." - Jan Stuart, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Powering the narrative is the explosive fallout from the collision between fate and self-determination. (...) If all this seems like another tired dose of metafictional smoke and mirrors, be assured that F is subtle and clever in all the right ways. Kehlmann’s world is fully convincing while being philosophically challenging." - Toby Lichtig, The Telegraph

  • "A comic tour de force, a biting satire on the hypnotized world of artificial wants and needs that Huxley predicted, a moving study of brotherhood and family failure, F is an astonishing book, a work of deeply satisfying (and never merely clever) complexity that reveals yet another side of a prolifically inventive writer who never does the same thing twice. (...) Yet F is also much more than an intricate puzzle: it is a novel of deep beauty, psychological insight and, finally, compassion; a book that, in a world of fakes and manufactured objects of desire, is the real article: a bona fide, inimitable masterpiece." - John Burnside, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Hier beeindruckt stärker die Virtuosität, mit der Themen und Motive auf den unterschiedlichsten Ebenen durchgeführt werden: Schicksal und Zufall, die Spannung zwischen göttlicher Fügung und menschlicher Freiheit, das Wesen der Kunst." - Richard Kämmerlings, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Arthur Friedland, the largely absent father at the heart of F, at one point describes fatum -- fate -- as 'The big F.', but in this novel 'F' also stands for 'fake', each of Arthur's three sons becoming frauds and fakes.
       The novel opens in 1984. Arthur isn't the wage-earner in the family; his eye-doctor wife is. All Arthur does is write -- novels that no publisher wants to publish. He has thirteen-year-old twins, Eric and Iwan, as well as a slightly older son, Martin, from a previous relationship, and the first chapter of F has him taking the kids to a hypnotist's performance.
       Arthur maintains that he's unaffected by hypnotism, but the talking-to he gets changes his life: he dumps the kids off, empties the family bank account, and takes off, rarely to be heard from again. Eventually he becomes a fairly successful writer, his first published work the novel Mein Name ist Niemand ('My Name is Nobody'), featuring a protagonist identified only as F. Arthur doesn't become a book-touring, publicity-seeking author; Pynchonesque, he remains unseen, unphotographed, and largely unheard from; he also continues to rarely appear in his sons' lives -- though he does pop up on occasion (usually right on their doorstep) over the years.
       The bulk of the novel takes place on the fateful day of 8 August 2008, shortly before the global financial crisis really hit. Three longer chapters feature each of the now adult sons in turn recounting their overlapping day and reflecting on what has led them there. Overweight Martin has become a priest, Iwan is active in the art world, and Eric runs a financial investment firm. They're kind of a mess, and they're all frauds: Martin doesn't believe in god; Iwan is a forger who wasn't good enough to become a painter in his own right (he originally planned to write his dissertation on 'Mediocrity as an aesthetic phenomenon') but in fact is the forging hand behind all the best-known paintings by the highly regarded Heinrich Eulenböck; and Eric has been running a Bernie Madoff-like scheme that looks like it's about set to unravel.
       Yes, as representatives of the spiritual, cultural, and economic spheres the trio is a bit too convenient, but Kehlmann does a good job of portraying their disappointed and fraudulent lives and the motions they go through in keeping up appearances. They're all at sea -- in Martin it manifests itself as insatiable, self-destructive gluttony, for example -- and Eric, doped up on pharmaceuticals, is most obviously losing his grip. But Eric is a survivor; Iwan, less so.
       Kehlmann does like to play with the obvious -- when Arthur takes his granddaughter, Marie, out she winds up lost in a glass labyrinth -- but he tells a decent story, and weaves all these together particularly well. It's all quite deeply melancholy too: Arthur's advice to Marie includes words of wisdom such as:

Es geht auch ohne Kompromisse. Man kann leben, ohne ein Leben zu haben. Ohne Verstrickungen. Das macht vielleicht nicht glücklich, aber es macht leicht.

[It can be done without compromising, too. One can live, without having a life. Without any ties. That might not make one happy, but it makes it easy.]
       It makes for a nice, solid entertainment, a mordant take on modern life.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 April 2014

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Links:

F: Reviews: Daniel Kehlmann: Other books by Daniel Kehlmann under Review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Daniel Kehlmann was born in Munich in 1975. He lives in Vienna, where he studied philosophy and literature. He has published several works of fiction.

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© 2014 the complete review

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