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Customer reviews

2.9 out of 5 stars
First Person
Format: Kindle Edition|Change

on 23 November 2017
Untangling a toxic relationship, Flanagan takes us into the internal world of the biographer, and the relationship between writer and subject - and the difficulty of capturing another's life in an authentic way, and how this in turn shapes the writer. Well worth reading.
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on 12 November 2017
A book worth persevering with, a story that slowly pulls you in until you must read it to the end. The book it explores post-modern ideas about truth and reality. The unravelling of a life that is a metaphor for society, reflecting on who we are and how we came to be.
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on 24 December 2017
Although I loved Mr Flanagans writing there wasn't much of a story...I think if you'd lived in Oz at that time and had the cultural context of Friedrich it would have been more enthralling.....but I did not...
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on 11 January 2018
I don't agree with the glowing reviews. There's some good prose, but the book isn't darkly comedic, it's boring twaddle.
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on 14 February 2018
didnt like anything about this book. self centred character, cruel and weird
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on 13 February 2018
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on 12 November 2017
After reading the astonishing "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" I was expecting another touching story, however it doesn't get close.
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TOP 10 REVIEWERon 18 October 2017
In 1992, Kif Kehlmann was young, broke, married with one child and twins on the way. He was living with his wife Suzy and three-year-old daughter in Hobart, trying to finish the novel he’d been writing for years. The need to make some money was becoming urgent. And then, Kif is approached to ghost-write a memoir. Siegfried Heidl is a notorious conman and corporate criminal: about to go on trial for defrauding the banks of $700 million. Kif will receive $10,000 if he can ghost-write Heidl’s memoir in six weeks.

Kif moves to Melbourne, leaving his heavily pregnant wife and daughter behind. Sure, he’ll travel home on weekends, and the babies aren’t due just yet. In Melbourne, Kif hooks up with his old mate Ray. It’s thanks to Ray that he’s been offered this job, and $10,000 will be very handy. But trying to get any information out of Heidl is difficult. And the publisher, Gene Paley, is pushing Kif for progress. After all, in this part of the publishing world, timing is everything.

‘This too you learnt from Heidl: how easy it is to remember; how hard to know if there is truth in even one memory.’

As the story unfolds, as Heidl’s trial date approaches and is then brought forward, Kif is under increased pressure to deliver. It’s difficult to sort fact from fiction in what Heidl tells him, especially when Heidl turns Kif’s questions and suggestions into his own experiences. Is Kif writing Heidl’s memoir, or is Heidl reshaping Kif’s life? If Kif has done a deal with the devil, how will he survive it?

’My first novel, I was aware, had suffered from being autobiographical, but now I feared my first autobiography was becoming a novel.’

I found this novel intriguing. The story opens with Kif reflecting on 1992 with the events around ghost-writing Heidl’s memoir. It then shifts to Kif’s present, to the changes in his life and circumstances. Kif may have survived the experience, but he’s not unscathed by it.

I wondered how much of the material for this novel was drawn from Richard Flanagan’s own experience of ghost-writing John Friederich’s autobiography ‘Codename Iago: The Story of John Friedrich’ in 1991.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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on 8 October 2017
The best living Australian writer.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 6 January 2018
If First Person were a first novel, the rejection letters would say the publishers did not know how to position the text. Because this is part novel, part memoir. Part psychological thriller, part dissection of the writing and publishing industry. For the most part, it is a highly readable and intriguing work.

Basically, the story is that in 1992 an aspiring (and unpublished) Tasmanian writer, Kif Kehlmann, is offered a contract to ghost write an autobiography of a fraudster, Ziggy Heidl, who is going to jail in six weeks. The lure is a $10,000 contract – enough to persuade Kif away from his heavily pregnant wife to spend time, holed up in the publisher’s Port Melbourne office, with a taciturn and evasive Ziggy. As time trickles through Kif’s fingers, and as the larger-than-life publisher Gene Paley gets increasingly twitchy, Kif plumbs the depths of despair. Oh, and Kif has been warned not to divulge any personal details by Ziggy’s minder Ray – who not entirely coincidentally turns out to have been Kif’s childhood friend.

Much of the novel is spent trying to work out just who Ziggy is. He claims to have been born and raised in Adelaide, yet speaks with a German accent. He was CEO of a large safety-based organisation that secured multi-million dollar loans from banks, but was also rumoured to have been involved in a criminal underworld where his business adversaries met sticky ends. He appears to be desperate for money – his $250,000 fee dwarfs that of his ghost writer – yet he seems to have no major expenses and will not need money in prison. He is simply unknowable. And that is Kif’s problem as he has to create the character at the heart of the autobiography.

Apparently much of the novel is, in a sense, autobiographical. As an aspiring writer, Richard Flanagan landed a six week job ghost-writing an autobiography for a German-Australian fraudster who shot himself three weeks into the process. And through the fictionalisation of this story, we learn a great deal about the publishing industry – or at least Richard Flanagan’s perspective on it. This includes air-headed publicists, lazy publishers who sit back while writers do the work for subsistence wages, vainglorious premises, A-list writers with obscene riders for appearances at publicity events, unfair contracts, and a general dis-interest in the truth. At times, it feels a bit like a whinge but Flanagan’s writing is good enough to keep the reader interested.

Where the novel doesn’t quite work, at least for me, was the pacing. The first 10% is a slow burn and doesn’t really grab the reader. Then there’s a lot of really compelling stuff; a really satisfying middle. Then, the final 20% - set 20 or more years later when Kif has become famous – feels overly long and a bit tacked on. It does offer a new perspective through which to re-appraise the Ziggy storyline but without being truly persuasive about how Kif could have got from there to here. The magic, for me, was in the relationship between Ziggy and Kif, each needing the other but unwilling to admit as much. And for that to work they both need to be there together.

Overall, though, an intriguing and puzzling novel that follows up on the enormous success of The Narrow Road to the Deep North without trying to replicate it.
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