cover image First Person

First Person

Richard Flanagan. Knopf, $26.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-525-52002-3

This harrowing if unsubtle story of insidious corruption is a combination of satire, tragicomedy, melodrama, and polemic from Flanagan, winner of the Man Booker for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Narrator Kif Kehlmann is a desperate man. Determined to finish his first novel, nearly destitute, and responsible for a toddler daughter and a wife pregnant with twins, he agrees to take a job that seems too good to be true. If he can ghostwrite the autobiography of a notorious Australian con man convicted of embezzling $700 million, he’ll earn $10,000; if he fails to complete the contract in six weeks, however, he’ll get nothing. The noxious criminal, Siegfried Heidl, is a brutal, repulsive embodiment of evil. He refuses to provide the details Kif needs, but asks intrusive questions about Kif’s family. The menacing tone established early on loses momentum as Kif struggles and fails to get facts from Heidl, while realizing he’s losing his own moral probity in a Faustian bargain. Flanagan is sharply satiric about Australia and its publishing industry, political chicanery, and corporate malfeasance; the heavy Australian focus, however, may be a stumbling block to American readers not already familiar with the terrain. 50,000-copy announced first printing. (Apr.)