Disappearing Act

F: A Novel, by Daniel Kehlmann, trans. Carol Janeway, (Pantheon), 272 pages, released August 26, 2014

F is one of those novels that a reader picks up because the premise is interesting—something that will either be brilliant or disastrous. Arthur, a father who doesn’t believe in hypnotism, abandons his family after being told by a hypnotist that he must seriously pursue his dream of being a writer. He becomes a famous author; his sons spend their lives responding to his abandonment in different ways. Martin becomes a priest who doesn’t believe in God. Eric become an investment adviser, juggling accounts like Bernie Madoff while over-medicating himself. Ivan, a painter, finds himself unable to produce his own artwork.

Bottom line: brilliant. This book is brilliant. Each of the chapters has a different perspective. The story of the hypnosis is told in omniscient, third person style. The next three chapters are each presented in first person, each narrated by one of the three sons. Imbedded among these chapters is one of the stories Arthur writes after abandoning his family. The book ends in third-person again, this time focusing on Arthur’s granddaughter (Eric’s daughter) Marie.

While the first ten or twenty pages went slowly, after that I found myself reading at breakneck speed, fascinated by the different distortions in each son’s adult identity. But having read at such a pace, I already find myself wanting to go back to reread, to reconsider details, to think about new ways of piecing together this fragmented story.

F offers a unique reading experience—experiences, really. It’s a book most readers will carry with themselves long after reading it.