BookBrowse Reviews Fame by Daniel Kehlmann

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


A Novel in Nine Episodes

by Daniel Kehlmann

Fame by Daniel Kehlmann
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2010, 192 pages
    Nov 2011, 192 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

Buy This Book

About this Book



The line between artifice and reality blurs in this novel about fame from one of Europe's finest young writers

"Real. It's a word that means so much, it doesn't mean anything anymore." By the time novelist Leo Richter makes this pronouncement near the end of Fame, the reader will almost certainly agree with his sentiments. Daniel Kehlmann's novel can be read, in many ways, as an extended exploration of the distinctions between artifice and reality or, more precisely, between story and "real life," whatever that consists of. Defining that distinction - only to blur it again repeatedly - is the ongoing project of Kehlmann's brilliantly playful novel, the thread that unites nine stories into a fascinating whole.

Disorientation is also a theme that runs throughout Fame - for the reader as much as for the characters who populate its pages. In the opening vignette, a man named Ebling finally breaks down and purchases a cell phone, only to discover that the number he's been assigned seems to belong to someone named Ralf. Ralf gets a lot of very interesting phone calls, and Ebling finds himself playing along as he constructs his own interpretation of Ralf's life. Later, Ralf himself - the famous movie star Ralf Tanner - comes to realize that a professional impersonator is doing a better job of being Ralf Tanner than Ralf himself is. Popular self-help guru Miguel Auristos Blanco, whose works of armchair philosophy grace bedside tables and newsstand shelves at every turn in Kehlmann's world, realizes, as he answers his fan mail, that he has lost all faith in the comforting platitudes that have made him a best-selling author.

Authors - and their sometimes troublesome characters - appear throughout Kehlmann's novel. At the center is the aforementioned Leo Richter. His girlfriend Elisabeth, who works with Doctors without Borders, is terrified that Richter is only mining her life and those of her colleagues as material for his next story: "People who have experienced nothing love to tell stories," she remembers an old colleague telling her, "while people who have experienced a great deal suddenly have no stories to tell at all." Meanwhile, a telecommunications specialist who spends all his free time contributing to online discussion groups encounters Richter at a conference and realizes that he'd love nothing more than to be immortalized as a character in one of Richter's stories.

In probably the most fascinatingly fluid episode, "Rosalie Goes Off to Die" (a short story supposedly written by Richter himself), the main character heads to a Swiss assisted-suicide clinic following a terminal cancer diagnosis. As she approaches her scheduled date with death, Rosalie begins to entreat the author himself to spare her, to write an alternate ending, resulting in a playful dialogue between author and character about the forms and function of fiction. Not surprisingly, the author always has the upper hand. Even trying to write one's own story is fraught with complications; in "How I Lied and Died," a tragically disillusioned telephone executive (actually the one responsible for the Ralf/Ebling mixup back in the first chapter) tries to maintain two separate romantic relationships, only to discover that he's lost the "real" version of his life amid the lies he's been telling: "How strange that technology has brought us into a world where there are no fixed places anymore. You speak out of nowhere, you can be anywhere, and because nothing can be checked, anything you choose to imagine is, at bottom, true."

Early in Fame, Leo Richter muses about the possibility of writing a novel without a protagonist. Again, in a form of ironic self-commentary, Daniel Kehlmann has beautifully managed to do that very thing, demonstrating that it's possible to create a narrative arc, tension, resolution (of a sort), even a bit of suspense through the use of interlocking characters, scenes, and most of all, themes. With energy, flexibility, and elegance, Kehlmann constructs a brilliant whole, simultaneously playful and thoughtful, certainly the kind of novel that engages readers emotionally and intellectually in equal measure.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl

This review was originally published in September 2010, and has been updated for the November 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Books in Translation

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Music of the Ghosts
    Music of the Ghosts
    by Vaddey Ratner
    Music of the Ghosts is about healing and forgiveness, but it is also about identity and the revival ...
  • Book Jacket: Castle of Water
    Castle of Water
    by Dane Huckelbridge
    When a whopping 24 out of 27 readers give a book 4 or 5 stars, you know you have a winner on your ...
  • Book Jacket: Havana
    by Mark Kurlansky
    History with flavor...culture with spice...language with would be hard to find a better ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

A funny and acutely perceptive debut about four siblings and the fate of their shared inheritance.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    No One Is Coming to Save Us
    by Stephanie Powell Watts

    One of Entertainment Weekly, Nylon and Elle's most anticipated books of 2017.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Stars Are Fire
    by Anita Shreve

    An exquisitely suspenseful novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

I always find it more difficult to say the things I mean than the things I don't.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y S M B, I'll S Y

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

Modal popup -