A novel idea

A while back, I read a book by Daniel Kehlmann, "Measuring the World". As I didn´t exactly fall in love with it, I didn´t expect to pick up something else by him anytime soon. But then I stumbled on this at the library. It´s called "Fame: A Novel in Nine Episodes" (sw. "Berömmelse, roman i nio historier") and I couldn´t resist.

The first thing this novel reminded me of was a film, Robert Altman´s "Short Cuts", where characters walk in and out of each other´s stories. This happens here as well, except characters walk in and out of each other´s fictions, rather. This is a novel interested in fiction itself and Kehlmann is poking, bending and breaking the boundries between fiction and the illusion of reality that, well... 99,99...% of all writers of fiction want to achieve.

For example, a character of one novel is an author in another novel, one character starts talking to her author and real people want to get into novels, find themselves stuck in novels, authors make visits to their novels, all kinds of weird things are going on. The big important theme here is the question of identity in a world were people live much of their lives on the world wide web and our identities have become fictionalized in a way that´s completely new.

What do we become, when we have tools that allow us to recreate our lives? When the harsh realities IRL are no longer strong enough to stabilize our identity? Can one person summon enough strength to keep himself together when multiple "usernames" become necessary? When we use all our energy to manage ourselves, can we manage anything else? Kehlmann does not think so. His characters fail, or if the succeed, it´s just by chance and it doesn´t look like success at all.

If you read this book (or if you don´t), why not also read free on-line magazine Five Dials, Number 9, the Fiction Issue? Not only does it contain another short story by Daniel Kehlmann about what is perhaps his key character in this novel, there are also a lot of other interesting texts. David Shields, for example, make a case against fiction. He writes: "Non-fiction is a framing device to foreground contemplation. Fiction is 'Once upon a time'. Essay is 'I have an idea'."

Well. Daniel Kehlmann, as it happens, is a novelist with an idea. His heart is in the idea, not with the characters. And that was my big disappointment with "Measuring the World", that the characters never really came to life for me. They were always a bit cartoonish. In this novel, however, the idea is the main character. And the characters are just play-things, means to make a point. And he makes it well. And I feel like I have found the heart of Daniel Kehlmann.

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