Sunday, July 1, 2018

First Person by Richard Flanagan

Things aren't going well for Tasmanian author Kif Kehlmann.  Married with a small child, he and his wife have just discovered that twins are on the way.  That is problematic when all the work Kif gets is part time and the mortgage is already difficult to meet.  Now Suzy can't work at all and things are getting tighter and tighter.  Kif is sure he is an author but in reality his first novel is still in the works.

As things get more desperate, Kif is contacted by his old buddy Ray.  Ray lives on the edge of society and it's never really wise to ask him exactly what he's doing these days for a living.  But this time Ray has an offer for Kif.  Ray has been working for Siegfried Heidl and Heidl is looking for a ghostwriter for his memoir.  Ray has suggested Kif.

Siegfried is Australia's disreputable con man, its Bernard Madoff.  He has skimmed approximately seven hundred million from the banks and is about to go to trial.  His life story has never been told and little is known about him.  When the publisher agrees to Kif as the ghostwriter, he packs up and takes off for what he thinks is his big break.

But it's not that easy.  Heidl can't bring himself to tell the truth, no matter the reason or the importance.  With a deadline looming, he refuses to answer any questions, even simple ones like where he was born or how his childhood was.  He spends his days talking on the phone and reading the newspapers, leaving Kif more and more confused and frustrated.  The publisher is pushing harder and harder and Kif starts to string together a few tidbits Heidl has let drop, padding the facts with more and more falsehood.  As the deadline fast approaches, Heidl gets further into Kif's soul and finally commits an act that will scar Kif forever.

This is Flanagan's newest novel.  It starts slow and the reader becomes as frustrated as Kif.  The final fourth of the novel flies and the reader is aghast at what occurs and how it plays out across the years.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

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