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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Fame

by
Daniel Kehlmann


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

To purchase Fame



Title: Fame
Author: Daniel Kehlmann
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 203 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Fame - US
Fame - UK
Fame - Canada
Ruhm - Deutschland
Gloire - France
Fama - Italia
Fama - España
  • A Novel in Nine Episodes
  • German title: Ruhm
  • Translated by Carol Janeway
  • Prix Cevennes, 2010
  • Ruhm was made into a film in 2012, directed by Isabel Kleefeld and starring Senta Berger (and apparently released in English as Glory: A Tale of Mistaken Identities)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : confidently tossed off, a bit light

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 9-11/2010 Tom LeClair
Le Figaro . 26/3/2009 Astrid Eliard
Financial Times . 11/10/2010 Maria Crawford
FASz . 10/1/2009 Volker Weidermann
FAZ A 17/1/2009 Heinrich Detering
The Guardian . 4/9/2010 Alberto Manguel
The Independent . 14/10/2011 Boyd Tonkin
The LA Times . 30/10/2010 Scott Esposito
NZZ . 17/1/2009 Andreas Breitenstein
The NY Times Book Rev. . 3/10/2010 Tim Mohr
The Observer . 19/9/2010 Edmund Gordon
San Francisco Chronicle A+ 17/10/2010 Gregory Leon Miller
TLS . 10/9/2010 Alexander Starritt
Wall St. Journal . 3/9/2010 Paul Genders
Die Zeit . 16/1/2009 Wiebke Porombka


  From the Reviews:
  • "Fame is a Nabokovian puzzle, a game of hide-and-seek, and a playful reflection on cultural renown and the lack thereof. (...) Somewhat facile in its wrong-number and coincidental-meeting connectivity, Fame is half empty, half full." - Tom LeClair, Bookforum

  • "La peur d'être oublié, le fantasme d'être reconnu, le rêve d'inspirer un écrivain et de devenir le héros de son livre, tous ces thèmes sont brillamment explorés par Daniel Kehlmann, que le succès a rendu plus drôle et incisif que jamais." - Astrid Eliard, Le Figaro

  • "Kehlmannís fiction is littered with enough flawed writers to warn against taking them too seriously." - Maria Crawford, Financial Times

  • "Kehlmann geht virtuos in diesen Spuren, verlässt sie aber immer wieder, wenn es ihm passt, wechselt Ton, Perspektiven, Erzählweisen und Geschichten. Und folgt aber in aller Ruhe seinem Thema: wie leicht in der technischen Welt durch eine kleine falsche Programmierung alles aus den Fugen geraten kann. Wie alle Sicherheiten verlorengehen, ein neues Leben beginnt. Ruhm ist ein Schreckens- und Traumbuch aus unserer Gegenwart." - Volker Weidermann, Frankfurter Allegemeine Sonntagszeitung

  • "Es ist ein Buch von funkelnder Intelligenz. Und es besitzt vom ersten Satz an eine Spannung, die unwiderstehlich ist. (...) Kehlmanns short cuts und simple Storys ergeben ein perfekt abschnurrendes Welt-Maschinchen. Zu dieser Perfektion gehört die Entropie. Die Vollkommenheit der Maschinerie zeigt sich erst in ihrem Kollaps, der so raffiniert kalkuliert ist, als habe ihn auch der reale Autor nicht mehr im Griff (der doch gerade damit triumphiert)." - Heinrich Detering, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "What happens to each of the characters is a consequence of the world he or she believes in, that virtual realm of make-belief bereft of narrative drama. Beneath the surface, however, run the disturbing questions Kehlman asks regarding the nature of communication and the representation of reality. Fame is not reality; it is the image we value in what counts for us in reality, the made-up face we show the world." - Alberto Manguel, The Guardian

  • "Smart, comic but moving (.....) For all its tricks and ruses, Fame emits a steady signal of compassion for bewildered humans caught in the grip of the modern machine." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

  • "None of the plots in Fame is original, yet in their twists and turns Kehlmann hones them into his own gnarled, precise questions, their power increased by how they are embedded and projected into one another. Kehlmann's prose too often substitutes cliché for creativity, but it succeeds in cleanly conveying the book's many ideas and structural resonances." - Scott Esposito, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Ruhm ist eine Literaturparodie und zielt zugleich mitten ins Herz der Gegenwart -- indem er den Identitätszerfall zeitgenössischen Daseins thematisiert, welcher der ubiquitären Nutzung der Informationstechnologien entwächst. Ort- und Beziehungslosigkeit, Identitäts- und Persönlichkeitszerfall heisst die wenig originelle Diagnose, doch macht nicht sie, sondern ihre vor Witz funkelnde und zugleich vor Wucht federnde literarische Umsetzung die Sensation des Romans aus. (...) Ruhm strotzt vor Raffinement. Daniel Kehlmann scheint alles zu können (.....) Es ist kein schwergewichtiger Roman, sondern eine genialische Fingerübung, die Daniel Kehlmann vorlegt" - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "It should be noted that the translation, by Carol Brown Janeway, does Kehlmann no favors. Janeway is an accomplished translator who did well by Measuring the World, but here she frequently misfires in her rendering of basic idiomatic phrases, and makes smoothly contemporary German passages sound awkward and at times incongruously old-timey. This detracts from a strength of the original, where even in the conceptually disappointing sections the language remains effortless, the pacing sleek. (...) Kehlmann betrays a navel-gazing streak, forcing us to watch him write and to congratulate him on his clever writerly tricks." - Tim Mohr, The New York Times Book Review

  • "But if there is a criticism to be made of Fame, it is that the impression it gives -- of this wildly successful young author shaking his head at the Kafkaesque lifestyle his reputation has foisted upon him -- can seem rather irritating. However skilfully it is executed, one cannot help doubting the absolute sincerity of Kehlmann's attack on the forms of modern celebrity; and that doubt comes into focus when one considers his subtitle -- "a novel in nine episodes"." - Edmund Gordon, The Observer

  • "(A) darkly comic masterpiece, a rare and thrilling example of a philosophical novel as pleasurable as it is thought-provoking. (...) The novel's more somber existential propositions are leavened by Kehlmann's penchant for offhand absurdity. (...) Other books have gained more attention this season. None are more deserving." - Gregory Leon Miller, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Fame handles the most current of topics: the paradoxes of celebrity as a means of investigating personality and exploring notions of the real. Kehlmann is a strikingly comic writer and what separates Fame from the work of an author such as Paul Auster is its tone." - Alexander Starritt, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Mr. Kehlmann expects us to see the joke. The links between these nine narratives are intricately embedded, arise unpredictably and show their author is not short on technical flair. (...) Fame fools cleverly around its title subject, but is more puzzling and substantial when, as in these stories, it makes a subject of the author's power to fool." - Paul Genders, Wall Street Journal

  • "Neben der Kritik an Technisierung und Medialisierung, die fast alle Geschichten grundiert, kann man Ruhm gar nicht anders lesen als ein programmatisches und poetologisches Buch, in dem Kehlmann noch einmal klarstellt, dass er ein Autor ist, dem es ums Ästhetische geht, um den spielerischen und zugleich souveränen Umgang mit Text. Nicht etwa um das faktisch korrekte Nacherzählen von Wirklichkeit, denn ein Realist war er ja noch nie." - Wiebke Porombka, Die Zeit

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:

       Ruhm ('Fame') is presented as 'a novel in nine stories', but the connexions between the tales are, for the most part, very loose. Characters pop up again, some scenes are seen again from a different perspective, but these tales don't blend together particularly obviously. As one of the characters -- a writer, of course, one of several -- acknowledges near the end:

     Wir sind immer in Geschichten. [...] Geschichten in Geschichten in Geschichten. Man weiß nie, wo eine endet und eine andere beginnt ! In Wahrheit fließen alle ineinander. Nur in Büchern sind sie säuberlich getrennt.

     [We are always in stories. [...] Stories within stories within stories. One never knows where one ends and another begins. Actually, they all merge into one another. Only in books are they neatly separated.]
       In Ruhm Kehlmann plays the trick of suggesting clean, neat separation, even as he made clear with his subtitle -- insisting this is a novel, not a random collection of stories -- that there is both order and connexion here.
       The first story is about a man who finally gets a cellphone, but finds he is receiving someone else's calls. The second is about a German writer, Leo Richter, in some African country, doing the rounds of some of the Goethe-Instituts and the like, his travelling companion, Elisabeth, a woman he recently met who works for Doctors without Borders.
       In that second story Elisabeth already begs Leo not to put her in one of his stories -- but, of course, it's too late: stories are inevitable, and we're all in more than we can imagine. The third story is recognisable as one briefly mentioned in the second, Leo's most famous tale -- a skewed one in which the author is repeatedly pulled into the story by the protagonist, a woman he has sentenced to death but who doesn't want to die and begs him to spare her, to play god and change the outcome.
       The stories overlap in various ways: we meet the man whose calls the new telephone-owner of the first story is constantly receiving (and learn of the consequences of this confusion), while a later story clears up the number-mix-up that led to the technical problem in the first place. Similarly, while travelling in the second story Leo decides he can't bear another of these trips and sends a text-message to another author, Maria Rubinstein, begging her to take his place (at this last minute) on a similar trip to Central Asia he was booked on; her story, later in the book, then reveals what happened on that fateful trip.
       Many of these characters are, to varying degrees famous or well-known, and identity -- hiding it, keeping or losing it, changing it -- is a central theme of the book. One character is a famous actor -- so famous that there are impersonators who appear on talent-night shows imitating him -- who (a bit predictably) finds himself losing his identity. As an actor, he is a man of many identities in any case -- and yet also unsure of any specific identity, even his own.
       In Maria Rubinstein's case, she finds herself the odd man out, and then is unable to get back on track again in a Kafkaesque nightmare as the bureaucratic machine digests only that it was Leo Richter that was supposed to be in this Central Asian wasteland and is unable to deal with the last-minute substitution.
       Another man spins evermore fantastic tales as he juggles the woman he lives with (more or less) and a mistress, inventing stories of what he has to do at the office or where he has to travel for work to cover his tracks as he is with one or the other, finding himself eventually even 'lying out of habit and inventing stories for no good reason' but ultimately unable to juggle both his invented and his real world.
       One story is also devoted to another writer, Miguel Auristos Blancos, whose books pop up in many of the stories (even in Central Asia), who writes an ultimate work of un-fiction, a piece meant to take back all he's done (as if that were possible ...).
       Kehlmann writes with almost consummate confident ease: these are tales that seem almost effortlessly thrown on the page, yet there's clearly much deliberation and care here. The collection often feels very light: Kehlmann is the rare author who doesn't want (or need) to parade all the writerly games he's playing; this book belongs right alongside those of Javier Marías and Enrique Vila-Matas, yet Kehlmann avoids the insistent self-consciousness that mark their works.
       Ruhm is very well done, yet isn't entirely satisfying, undermined by the very effortlessness of its appearance. Still, worthwhile.

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Links:

Fame: Reviews: Glory: A Tale of Mistaken Identities - the film: 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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© 2009-2014 the complete review

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