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First Person Six weeks to write for your life In this blistering story of a ghostwriter haunted by his demonic subject the Man Booker Prize winner turns to lies crime and literature with devastating effectA young and penniless writer Kif Kehlmann is rung in the middle of the night by the notorious con man and corporate criminal Siegfried Heidl About to go to trial for defrauding the banks of 700 million Heidl proposes a deal 10000 for Kehlmann to ghost write his memoir in six weeksBut as the writing gets under way Kehlmann begins to fear that he is being corrupted by Heidl As the deadline draws closer he becomes ever unsure if he is ghost writing a memoir or if Heidl is rewriting him—his life his future Everything that was certain grows uncertain as he begins to wonder who is Seigfried Heidl—and who is Kif KehlmannBy turns compelling comic and chilling First Person is a haunting journey into the heart of our age

  • Hardcover
  • 400 pages
  • First Person
  • Richard Flanagan
  • English
  • 05 March 2016
  • 9781784742195

About the Author: Richard Flanagan

Richard Flanagan born 1961 is an author historian and film director from Tasmania Australia He was president of the Tasmania University Union and a Rhodes Scholar Each of his novels has attracted major praise His first Death of a River Guide 1994 was short listed for the Miles Franklin Award as were his next two The Sound of One Hand Clapping 1997 and Gould's Book of Fish 2001 Hi



10 thoughts on “First Person

  1. says:

    Richard Flanagan has written a smart comic and intelligent satirical fable for our era set in Australia To some extent it is a blend of fact and fiction that draws on the author's well known experience of ghost writing a memoir for a con man in the 1990s Flanagan mocks and incisively skewers the publishing industry Kif Kehlmann is an unpublished Tasmanian writer in dire financial straits His wife Suzy is expecting twins and they already have a child He finds himself in Melbourne having a 10 000 contract to ghost write the memoir of the notorious con man and fraudster Siegfried Heidl Ziggy within six weeks The two men find themselves dependent on each other with their fates intertwined Heidl proves to be the slipperiest of customers disinclined to offer any personal information throwing out the odd bones that prove to be nebulous and hard to pin down Kif struggles to write anything of value whilst being harried by the monstrous publisherI was amused by the picture of the publisher Gene Paley terrified of literature with its allegories symbolism tropes of time dancing often lacking the logical structure of a beginning and an end Paley is scared because literature does not sell whereas celebrity memoirs and other superficial books make money And Paley is all about the money and he wants Kif to understand that there is no money in writing well only in writing badly Heidl claims to be Australian even though he has a strong German accent He alludes to working for the CIA and mentions Laos FRG and Chile and that his codename was Iago However nothing adds up and Heidl talks of the invented lives of the famous where the achievement invents the life it needs Kif is drawn to and beguiled into the life of Heidl as he writes a fictional memoir caught by the glamour of the rich and powerful infected by their corruption He begins to understand that Heidl may actually be guilty of far heinous crimes than those he is charged withFlanagan weaves a dark story about identity a ghostwriter performing a conjuring trick an illusion of a life that is fictitious It asks the uestions what is truth and what is fiction in our world? I did like the symbolism of the codename of Iago for Heidl and the portrayal of Paley a man only interested in the badly written and the money it makes for him Kif finds the memoir puts him on a voyage of discovery about who he is and is instrumental in the trajectory of the path his life takes later This is a novel that catches the zeitgeist of our contemporary post truth world with its fake news A brilliant and highly recommended read Many thanks to Random House Vintage for an ARC

  2. says:

    One of those books you can easily expect to appear on a literary prize list beautiful prose many pages spent pondering the thoughts and beliefs of the main character and a lot going on that I did not understandNot understanding parts of it is I am sure my problem not the author's Richard Flanagan's writing is flawless and freuently very beautiful His characters are deep and cleverly written but also very unpleasant with very little to redeem any of them I debated long and hard how to rate this book and decided to go down the middle with three stars It is without doubt a very good book but one I could not personally enjoy

  3. says:

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review I loved the premise for this a penniless writer is promised 10000 to ghost write the memoirs of a notorious criminal in six weeks Part thriller part literary introspective study and autobiography what follows was an interesting story but ultimately it just didn't work for me I think the main issue I found was the writing itself There's no denying it's well written but at times I struggled with the slow pace of the plot A lot of the story is dedicated to overly flowery descriptions and a great deal of time is spent on self reflection rather than actually 'going' anywhere That said Kif's growing unease depression and his internal struggle is masterfully crafted As the story progresses you really see him unravel as he starts to uestion just who exactly 'Ziggy' is and how he's being manipulated The pair seem to have some kind of symbiotic relationship with each needing the other in a rather unhealthy way It's cleverly done I also enjoyed learning about the publishing industry and ther various personalities associated with it but these were sadly few and far between This has 'marmite' written all over it You're either going to love it or dislike it Unfortunately I think I fall in the latter category

  4. says:

    An intriguing hybrid of satire and counterfactual autobiography that turns out to be both dark and surprisingly profound while remaining something of a page turnerThe central character Kif Kehlmann is like the young Flanagan a Tasmanian writer struggling to fund his first novel with casual work and support a young family He is offered a job as a ghost writer for a notorious con man Siegfried Heidl a lightly fictionalised caricature of John Friedrich whose autobiography was ghosted by the young Flanagan Heidl is a pathological liar and Kehlmann gradually finds himself inhabited by his personality without making much progress on a coherent story The first part of the story builds to a melodramatic climax view spoilerin which Heidl leads him to his house in the country and tries to persuade Kif to shoot him leaving Kif unsure which of them was responsible for his eventual death Friedrich was also found dead by a shot to the head leaving Flanagan with an incomplete book which was eventually completed and published as Codename Iago hide spoiler

  5. says:

    This is a beautifully written book My copy is dog eared countless times at pages where the prose took my breath away At the same time I found it uite a bleak harrowing read The descent into madness The poverty The loss of love It is a painful parable for the age of Trump and reality TV

  6. says:

    Richard Flanagan was the 2014 winner of the Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North a book inspired by his own father’s harrowing experiences but one on which I had mixed views concerned at characters that seem to barely rise above cliché and a topic that really did nothing that hasn’t already been done in the “Bridge over the River Kwai but impressed with the writing style and its thoughtful examination of topics such as goodevil self belief and delusion and the stories people tell themselves the contrast between one’s public image and private image the impossibility of really knowing anotherFlanagan’s Wikipedia entry states Flanagan wrote four non fiction works before moving to fiction one of these was an autobiography of 'Australia's greatest con man' John Friedrich which Flanagan ghost wrote in six weeks to make money to write his first novel Friedrich killed himself in the middle of the book's writing and it was published posthumously Simon Caterson writing in The Australian described it as one of the least reliable but most fascinating memoirs in the annals of Australian publishing For details on John Friedrich and his expansion with the aid of dubiously extended fraudulently obtained and Ponzi scheme style repaid bank loans of the National Safety Council of Australia from a low key advisory organization into a national search and rescue organization with a uasi paramilitary rescue force and its own helicopters aircraft and submarines and its subseuent insolvency and collapse see herehttpsenwikipediaorgwikiJohnFrhttpsenwikipediaorgwikiNationaThis book is a very loosely disguised novelistic retelling of Flanagan’s experiences with Freidrich in 1991 The appropriately first person narrator is Kif Kehlmann a struggling writer originally from Tasmania whose wife is pregnant with twins all of which reflect Flanagan’s own situation at that time He is contacted by his best and oldest friend from Tasmania – Ray who acts as a bodyguard to Siegfried Ziggy HeidlHeidl is facing an imminent fraud trial for his role of defrauding the banks that funded his expansion with the aid of dubiously extended fraudulently obtained and Ponzi scheme style repaid bank loans of the Australian Safety Organisation ASO from a low key advisory organization into a national search and rescue organization with a uasi paramilitary rescue force and its own helicopters aircraft and submarines stop me if this sounds familiarHeidl is under contract to produce an autobiography for the major fictional Australian publisher Schegel Trans Pacific Trans Pac or STP – whose star author is the blockbuster author Jez Dempster The publisher Gene Paley and editor Pia Carnevale despair of Heidl’s ability to work with their ghostwriters and in desperation suggest he supplies his own An unrepentant Heidl is effectively aiming to use the publishing fees to continue his Ponzi style business methods in this case a rumoured clandestine rocket launch site in ueensland which is being funded by ex ASO directors still it seems under his spell and when Ray mentions his best friend is a writer approaches Kif to write his biography Kif initially decides to refuse on grounds of morality and artisitic integrity but faced with the imminent birth of two children to a family of three his wife Suzy and a young daughter Bo which he already cannot support and with the persuasiveness of Paley and Heidl ends up accepting almost by default Kif working to only a six week deadline is given Heidl’s own attempts at the book – a twelve thousand word manuscript which is a mash up of uotes from newspaper stories about the growth of the Australian Safety Organisation supplemented by extracts from annual reports memorandum letters of praise from various politicians and thanks from public figures linked by the occasional unenlightening paragraph from Heidl It was in its way as extraordinary as it was almost unreadable there was nothing about Heidl’s background nothing of his private life nor anything about the collapse of the ASO the missing millions the banks and businesses and jobs and lives that went down in conseuence the manhunt and his subseuent arrest and pending trial Nothing in short that might make a book Trying to supplement this by asking Heidl about the missing pieces – he uickly despairs of Heidl’s evasions half truths inventions and often blatant lies as well as his consistent hints about his involvement in CIA funded black operations in countries such as Laos and Chile Instead Kif finds himself uickly committing a form of literary fraud himself effectively inventing Heidl’s backstory one Heidl then adopts as the truth and for example in the case of a chance encounter with the Beatles that Kif invents flamboyantly embellishes I would read out what I had created out of his delusions and evasions The outlandish the less related my story was to the few vague facts he had outlined the ludicrous I was the pleased Heidl seemed to be and the he would claim that it accorded exactly with his own memory Kif also finds his own pretensions as a writer coming up against the realities of commercial success something which enables Flanagan to satirise the publishing industry Books on chocolate gardening furniture military history tired celebrities; tedious memoirs and pulp novels – a small part of the profits from which paid for the publication of the few books I thought books were – novels essays poems storiesIt was feared by others that I might relapse into literature By which I mean allegory symbol the tropes of time dancing; of books that didn’t have a particular beginning or end or at least not in that order By whom I mean the publisher a man by the unexpected name of Gene Paley He had been uite specific in this regard I was to tell a simple story simply and where it was not simple – when it dealt with the complexities of the spectacular crime – simplify illustrate by way of anecdote and never have a sentence that lingered longer than two linesIt was whispered around the publishing house that Gene Paley was frightened of literature And not without good reason For one thing it doesn’t sell For another it can fairly be said that it asks uestions that it can’t answer It astonishes people with themselves which on balance is rarely a good thing It reminds them that the business of life is failure and that the failure to know is true ignorance Maybe there is transcendence in all this or wisdom in some of it but Gene Paley didn’t see himself in the transcendence game Gene Paley was all for books telling you one or two things over and over again But preferably only oneIt was 1992 that time so close and now so far away when publishing executives still had such large corner offices and liuor cabinets; before and e books; before phrases like granular analytics customer fulfillment and supply chain alignment had connected like tightening coils in a hangman’s noose And to get in a number of literary references for example Heidl we are told rejects the concept of conventional self examining biography a life isn’t an onion to be peeled he says in a clear literary reference to Gunter Grass When asked about the desired length of the book – Paley comments and I was reminded of Paul Auster’s 4321 Look at American novels – six hundred pages or and who reads them? We say they’re substantial but a lot of people are frightened to lift them I’m terrified I’ll dislocate an arm in bed if I open one But they get great reviews because no reviewer can be bothered getting to the end so they have to say its good Or much later when the older Kif meets a seemingly rather self obsessed young writer for Emily Coppin all things were all things Emily Coppin of whom Pia says We bill her as one of the voices of her generation and Kif asks her what she writes AutobiographyIt’s what everyone writes now Knausgaard Karl Ove Rachel Cusk A uote which of course has added deliberate irony given the almost entirely autobiographical nature of this novelInstead of engaging with the biography Heidl insists on discussing and presenting his own philosophy on life – often uoting the invented philosopher the great German installationist Tomas Tebbe –an outlook which is nihilistic and deeply cynical albeit increasingly Kif realises to his own dismay representative of reality than the upbeat optimistic view that he may previously have held Heidl claims to be convinced that the banks are out to kill him and insists on a ludicrous cover story that he Kif and Ray are producing an anthology of mediaeval Westphalian folk verse He freuently absconds from his meetings with Kif – supposedly to meet up with producers journalists or other contacts although at times Kif then spots him wandering the streets and also at one stage seems to order a hit on a former colleague who has turned against him only for Kif to redial the number and find it’s a pizza parlourBut rather than seeing Heidl as simply a con man it is clear that Kif is genuinely filled with both hatred and fear of him warned in advance by Ray he sees but is unable to resist the ways in which Heidl insinuates himself into Kif – firstly into his writing but then into his character and even poisons his relationship with Suzy on whom pregnancy has the opposite effect to that of Heidl on Kif – giving her an optimistic view of the future and of intrinsic goodness I was learning from him the power of suggestion rather than demonstration; of evasion rather than enlightenment; of giving only one fact – or really just the rumour of a fact – and then letting the reader invent everything around it I was without being aware of it learning to distract from the truth by amusing the reader; to flatter the reader by playing on what they believed to be their virtues – their ideas of goodness and decency – whilst leading them ever further into an alien darkness that was the real world and perhaps the real them and on occasion I feared the real me And every night when I thought I was washing him away I was deluding myself For he was entering me and there was nothing I could do about it I sensed it how could I not But I ignored it because the worlds were beginning to come He was entering me and there were and words and with each word somehow less and less of me I was a man unmoored once adrift in a wild sea Later in the book – a chance reading of a newspaper article about a pizza parlour front for a hitman and a shocking picture of a flayed corpse that Pia and Kif find in Heidl’s effects confront Kif with the knowledge of the evil that does reside in the world and which Heidl has channelled further poisoning his own thoughts and relationshipsIn between Rif’s dealings with Heidl are interspersed details of Ray and Kif’s past in Tasmania joyriding bar fights kayaking exploits which gained them a certain level of fame and a lengthy description of the harrowing birth of the twins – presumably taken from autobiographical detail and so intrinsically lined with HeidlFriedrich in the author’s view but to the reader rather oddly juxtaposedA very lengthy set piece of the book ensues when Heidl tries to enlist Kif’s assistance in his suicide with the extent to which he did assist left deliberately unclear Flanagan has implied that this is the point at which the story diverges from autobiography – and while the closing section of the novel opens with clear parallels to Flanagan’s own experience – Kif completes and largely invents what is effectively a posthumous autobiography while attempting to get his own novel published receiving as did Flanagan a rejection letter stating “This novel does not fit into any recognizable school of Australian literature” it then clearly diverges with Kif splitting with his wife abandoning literature and finding fame and fortune but complete dissatisfaction and disillusionment as a TV soap writer and later producer of reality TV One can only assume here that Flanagan is mapping an alternative pathway his life could have taken had he succumbed to the malign nihilistic influence of FriedrichThe book finishes with Flanagan setting up FriedrichHeidl as effectively a foretaste of how society developed both in terms of how it foreshadowed the banking crisis and the selfie phenomenon He swindled the banks of seven hundred million but soon enough the world would be swindled by so much the racket disarmingly the same taking and making money out of shipping containers that were so empty they didn’t even have a physical existence – junk bonds no doc loans derivativesEveryone wants to be the first person Autobiography is all we have Isn’t that what you do on reality television she said It sounds like literary selfies I said Overall not a flawless novel but a fascinating one packed with ideas One that could be said to be a thoughtful examination of topics such as goodevil self belief and delusion and the stories people tell themselves the contrast between one’s public image and private image the impossibility of really knowing another stop me if this sounds familiar

  7. says:

    Australian men do man things The men are so manly with their man problems Occasionally there is an incidental woman who is hugely pregnant like a whale or has an evilly lipsticked mouth or who likes to take selfies But what of the MEN? How will they manage to create REAL ART when also struggling with all the pressures of being men? It's so hard One day they will die they will cease to be; there is even an actual dead parrot in this novel if you want to make the obvious joke Haha just kidding There are absolutely no jokes in this book Just scathing observations about how literature is dead and everyone is shallow and boy did old computers crash a lot which is how you can remember that most of this book takes place in 1992 MAYBE THE MEN WOULD BE SAVED IF THEY WENT BACK TO USING TYPEWRITERS LIKE HEMINGWAY Oh god won't somebody think of the men??? Repeat for 350 pages

  8. says:

    “It’s a very strange time where fictions are presented to us as realities where reality seems fictional and it seems to me there’s no better way to write about that than to write a story about what lies are what fiction is and to use the form of the novel to do it”This is how Richard Flanagan himself sums up what his new novel is about I might add that apart from being an allegory on the age of post truth First Person is also a book about the nature of evil and how we get drawn to it Flanagan's protagonist Kif Kehlmann is an aspiring writer living in a downtrodden neighborhood in Tasmania and trying to make ends meet as an unskilled worker He is already the father of young Bo and his wife is now pregnant with twins which puts additional financial pressure on him When Kehlmann is offered to ghostwrite the autobiography of infamous criminal Ziggy Heidl he is at first hesitant but finally takes on the job and gets and drawn into the world of the man who carried out the biggest con job in Australian history But not only is Heidl extremely difficult to work with in order to earn the 10000 the publishing house promised him Kehlmann also needs to complete his task within six weeks as Heidl is facing trial Flanagan has written this novel in the style of a memoir and there actually is a true story at the core of this fictional account In 1991 Flanagan himself was offered 10000 to write the autobiography of Australian conman John Friedrich within six weeks In the third week Friedrich killed himself only days before he would have had to stand trial on charges relating to the 296m fraud of the National Safety Council of Australia Flanagan broke and with his wife expecting twins had to finish the book nonetheless and he did Based on this set up Flanagan mixes fact and fiction the line between the two becoming partly unrecognizable for the reader Kehlmann meets himself while writing about Heidl the book's narrator mirrors its author the subject the narrator writes about Heidl mirrors the subject the author himself wrote about in a former book Friedrich and of course Flanagan still writes about Friedrich by writing about Kehlmann writing about HeidlAnd it does not stop here The many hours Kehlmann and Heidl spend together while working on the book are like a chamber drama with Heidl engaging Kehlmann in his philosophical musings citing Nietzsche elaborating on his own grim nihilistic ideas and never giving enough information for Kehlmann to write a consistent story without throwing in inventions of his own making They were arabesues of nonsense but there was music in them It was almost jazz He was Thelonius Monk and I just tried to hang in playing around his parts filling in all the notes and beats he didn't bother with Not that Heidl would care about the accuracy of the final account there is no truth only interpretations That's why we do better liberated from the truth he went on Believe me What counts according to Heindl is how good the story is Australia is a story politics is a story religion is a story money is a story and the ASO his company was a story The banks just stopped believing in my story And when belief dies nothing is leftFlanagan also transfers this idea to literature itself proclaiming ours to be the age of the literary selfie Everyone wants to be the first person Autobiography is all we have it says in the novel only to dismiss this notion Life isn't an onion to be peeled a palimpsest to be scraped back to some original truer meaning It's an invention that never ends We are than just one thing Flanagan states and literature reminds us of that The way the publishing industry works is portrayed in harsh satirical strokes though If you can only learn to write badly enough you can make a great deal of moneyAll in all Flanagan wrote a dark challenging story trying to find explanations for how we ended up where we are now Was the crime Heidl committed and over the attitude he displayed a starting point for what was to come after him? Is it not the brutality itself but the fact that we accept it that lies at the core of evil? I am not sure whether I fully agree with Flanagan but he certainly found an interesting artistic way to contemplate our state of affairs

  9. says:

    Ghostwriting—what a thankless task After countless hours of subsuming the self in another’s life story and personality you get hardly any credit not even a byline But for Kif Kehlmann the narrator of Flanagan’s seventh novel it’s a uick route to some cash Unfortunately for Kif his subject conman Siegfried Heidl is extremely unforthcoming about the basic facts of his past Instead author and subject start to mutually imagine and insinuate themselves into each other’s existence There’s no shortage here of consciously profound lines about identity and self creation but with no driving story to back them up the novel soon grows repetitive As Kif says of writing Heidl’s memoir “I may as well have used a pair of scissors to pick up spilled mercury” The striking metaphor also applies alas to the frustrations of this particular reading experienceSee my full review on the Pittsburgh Post Gazette website

  10. says:

    First Person by Richard FlanaganWhen you are a struggling writer and you haven’t actually written anything or published a book there is probably only a few job offers that you would refuse When a con man and fraudster waiting on trial calls you and asks you to ghost write his memoirs in 6 weeks prior to the start of his trial for 10K it is a hard thing to refuse risking your integrity for your craft against a uick fix in the bank This is the story of Kif AKA Richard Flanagan and Heidl AKA Siegfried “Ziggy” Heidl fictional character AKA John Friedrich and how during a small period of time together became locked in a world of lies deceit and discovery The story is part fictional part autobiographical the agony of the ghost writer is extremely well written here but the added weight of the hell of knowing Heidl and being manipulated daily during and after the writing of the book was just torturous to read I am not a writer have never aspired to be one other than in my younger days I dream't I might spend my life on my typewriter at an open window looking out to sea over my flower garden I don’t have a creative bone in my body today but if I did I would not want to be anyone’s ghostwriter

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