Fame: A Novel in Nine Episodes
(Original German title: Ruhm: Ein Roman in neun Geschichten
) is a 2009 Kafka Komedy
novel by Daniel Kehlmann.
Through nine different stories, the book tells the story of nine very confused German people. All of them become trapped in nightmarish situations over the course of their chapters — either by their own stupid mistakes, or simply by accident. The leading theme of the novel is fame: some of the characters want to have it, some want to get rid of it, and some lose it by mistake.
The stories all intertwine, and a plot quickly unfolds that ties all of the characters together.
The nine characters are:
- Ebling, an apathetic technician who starts receiving phone calls not meant for him, and who starts pretending to live the seemingly much more interesting life of the man they're meant for.
- Leo Richter, a neurotic, egotistical world famous author who hates everyone and everything in life, apart from his own characters.
- Rosalie, Richter's own favourite character, who travels to Switzerland for a peaceful death.
- Maria Rubinstein, a timid author of detective novels, who agrees to attend a conference in Leo Richter's place and ends up experiencing Leo's own worst fears.
- Ralf Tanner, a world famous actor who starts losing control over his own identity, and sees himself appearing in interviews and films he can't remember.
- Mollwitz, a morbidly obese forum addict who spends his life slacking off at a phone company, and who would do anything to be a part of Leo's novels.
- Miguel Auristos Blancos, a filthy rich author of self-help booklets, who one day finds himself typing something actually useful and sinks into severe ennui.
- Mollwitz' boss, who is much too nice to fire Mollwitz, and much too nice to tell his girlfriend that he has a loving wife.
- Elisabeth, a Doctor Without Borders who just can't bring herself to dump Leo Richter, and whose greatest fear is inspiring a character in his novels and becoming part of his fiction.
The novel hints that all of the chapters may actually be written by Leo, and that only his own introduction chapter is "real". All of the events in the other chapters are hinted at as being things that are prominently on Leo's mind in his own chapter. Still, this is never made explicit, and the novel challenges the reader to see where the story ends and the story-within-the-story begins.
Fame provides examples of:
- From Bad to Worse: Maria's story. It starts with her traveling to an unnamed Eastern country instead of Leo, and ends with her in slavery, through a series of Kafkaesque misunderstandings.
- Gainax Ending: Elisabeth finds herself in one of Leo's stories together with him, talking to his characters. When she asks him why, he simply vanishes from the story and leaves her in a world where no one knows who he his, and where as the author, he has full power over what she says and does. The straightforward explanation would be that she left him and he just included her in a later story out of spite, but more surrealistic interpretations are also possible.
- Hikikomori: Mollwitz. He's 38 and living with his mother, who doesn't allow him to talk to women. He has an office job, but refuses to actually do work or talk to people.
- Kafka Komedy: Oh yes. Particularly Maria's chapter.
- Rage Against the Author: Rosalie directly talks to Leo, but it's very clear that she's completely fictional, and that Leo is just inventing the dialogue for his own amusement. The distiction between fact and fiction is less clear with Elisabeth, whose final chapter may or may not be just another story Leo invented after she's long since left him. It's even possible that all of the other stories in the novel are written by Leo too, and that only his own introduction chapter is "real". All of the events in the other chapters are hinted at as being things that are prominently on Leo's mind in his own chapter.
- Ruritania: Maria ends up trapped for at least a year in an unnamed Balkan or Central Asian country.
- Most Writers Are Writers