Me and Kaminski by Daniel Kehlmann

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Me and Kaminski by Daniel Kehlmann

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: Unexpected but true: a pleasure to read this astringent tale of an obnoxious journalist pursuing a geriatric artist. Sebastian Zollner hopes to obtain lurid detail about Kaminski's past for a best-selling biography that will resuscitate his career. As if! A clear, incisive read raising questions about intrusive media and the likeability of a central character. Maybe a good choice for reading groups.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 200 Date: December 2009
Publisher: Quercus
ISBN: 978-1847249890

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After reviewing several long books, it's been refreshing to read such a fluent yet pared down story as Kaminski and Me. In it, Sebastian Zollner, the obnoxious main character, shoves himself forward in a desperate attempt to research a best seller which will re-ignite his career as an art critic. Kaminski, the proposed subject, was a fashionable painter long ago, but now, ancient and chronically ill, has virtually slid into oblivion. So the second-rate writer is on a loser unless he can dig up some juicy details to hook the art world and general public.

Zollner makes the rounds of the old man's former associates and visits Kaminski and his daughter, Miriam, in their mountain home. Using what might be euphemistically called 'thorough research methods', he unearths a former lover. He decides to put the two together, hoping that he can catch any ensuing flying mud.

Much of the interest from the book stems from the clever plot. Kaminski agrees to meet his old love and off go two manipulative and egocentric men on a wild goose chase across Germany. During the journey, a strange hitch hiker senses their lack of connection and winds up the tension to gain power over both men, like a metaphor for today's intrusive media. When the stranger drives off in their BMW, Kaminski is left standing on a service station forecourt in his dressing gown and Zollner's hand luggage contains little more than the old man's medication. The artist is a highly convincing picture of old-old age with an interest-holding drip feed of his characteristics as the trip progresses.

Eventually, somehow, the pair reach their destination. Unsurprisingly, the reunion turns out an anticlimax – Kaminski has preserved an image of a great love through the years, while the confused old lady has little recollection of the artist, calling him Miguel not Manuel. As for Zollner, the newsworthiness of the meeting is nil.

Sebastian Zollner is symbolic, representing the worst of the media. His self-confidence persists despite every rebuff. He claims friendships from one casual meeting yet provokes universal dislike with his lack of sensitivity and intrusive social behaviour. His colleagues are civil or helpful to Zollner only because he may be influential or helpful in the future. Ordinary folk are less polite, and there are many comic moments as they reject him. I particularly loved the scene in which Zollner climbs the mountain path up to Kaminski's house, sweaty and out of breath, when his landlady gets her own back for his rudeness. It's only on the way back down by the shorter road route that he realizes he's been had.

There is satire in this book as the author debunks the hype surrounding personal celebrity in the art world. The opening night to which Zollner takes Kaminski is a hoot, as the art world decides what to make of the old man. Zollner himself always uses the tactic of asking the other person's opinion first before he defines his own position. There is even a scene where he and an artist dance round each other, unable to find any common ground even though they inhabit the same world.

Another delight of the book is the stylish writing, which has been cleverly translated by Carol Brown Janeway. It's astringent, fluent, concise, readable and retains its German flavour despite impeccable English. What more can we ask? And oh yes, the bliss of reading a novel in one easy sitting without feeling guilty about putting off the household chores – I think brevity should be the selling point for busy readers!

The Bookbag would like to thank the publishers for sending this book.

If Kehlmann's ascerbic writing appeals, then a favourite of mine is Jay McInerney's collection of short stories set around New York, The Last Bachelor.

Buy Me and Kaminski by Daniel Kehlmann at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Me and Kaminski by Daniel Kehlmann at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Me and Kaminski by Daniel Kehlmann at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Me and Kaminski by Daniel Kehlmann at Amazon.com.


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