Review: F; Daniel Kehlmann

A little bit meh in places, but interesting… (3.5 stars)

Source- review copy

Published by Quercus Books. Due for publication in the UK on 23rd October.

I read the hardcover edition which is 272 pages.

What a bloody awful book cover.

Seriously.

Who on earth would ever look at that bland offering in a bookshop and say ‘oooh, F! How intriguing. I simply must read that!’ Not me. In fact, had it not been for Midas offering me a review copy of this then I seriously doubt I would have ever picked it up. That is the kind of dull, unassuming cover I’d probably completely walk by on a bookshelf as it would not remotely pique my curiosity.

F

I’ll be honest with you: I’d never heard of this author before and I don’t tend to be drawn to books that are overly philosophical or existential in their context. Notes from the Underground was about heavy going enough for me.  The premise for F admittedly sounded pretty interesting though and I’m making it my mission this year to try books that I probably wouldn’t have considered in the past. Some I’ve enjoyed a lot, some I’ve absolutely hated and couldn’t finish and some have been merely ‘meh.’ I suppose F falls into the latter category.

Initially set in the mid-1980’s, wannabe writer Arthur Friedland takes his young sons, Martin, Eric, and Ivan to see a famous stage hypnotist, The Great Lindemann. Though a sceptic of hypnosis, Arthur is himself called on stage and is hypnotised not only into revealing his darkest secrets, but also his unrealised ambitions- that of becoming a published author and in ridding himself of the constraints of his family life.

A few days after the encounter with the hypnotist, Arthur disappears, only re-emerging years later as an infamous author, responsible for writing a book that forces people to question their own existence and in some cases, even commit suicide after reading it.

The three boys too, are influenced after the encounter with the hypnotist- one becomes a priest though he isn’t sure he believes in God. One becomes a banker, who loses his grasp on his sanity under pressure and another becomes a talented art forger. Each of these three men later has an overlapping encounter on the same day that forces them to face questions as to which they may never find the answers…

The ‘F’ can stand for a lot of things- family, faith, friends, fraud, father, fate, fame and fortune amongst others- all themes that are resonant within the body of this story. It also stands for flawed.  Translated from its original German, I do have to question whether some of this books original meaning did in fact get lost during that process as I found myself confused on a few occasions when some of the narrative threads veered off for a while and then seemingly joined up again or when the storyline went off on a complete tangent talking about inexplicable people in the past. Or maybe it was the point of the story to be confusing, I’m not quite sure.

Truthfully, I’m not quite sure about much within this story, other than it did hold my attention throughout and I found it to be a moderately interesting read and quite different to a lot of other books I’ve experienced recently.

So why the 3.5 stars and not a lower rating? To be honest it was the twins, Eric and Ivan who saved this book for me. Though neither was especially likeable I enjoyed learning about them and their interactions and erratic behaviour lifted this otherwise bleak novel and encouraged me to keep reading. I wanted to know what would happen to them so in that sense this book did offer a sense of intrigue.  F wasn’t dire, but I doubt I would have been drawn to it in a bookshop. If there was also something to ‘get’ with this book then I’m afraid I just didn’t- as demonstrated by my earlier ramblings above.

**I would like to thank Midas PR for providing me with a review copy of F, in exchange for an honest, albeit conflicted review.**

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