Book Review: First Person by Richard Flanagan

Out of work and broke, want-to-be writer Kif Kehlman is offered a contract to ghost write a book about a notorious criminal, Ziggy Heidl. Interestingly, the young Richard Flanagan actually did ghost write for John Friedrich who defrauded Australian banks of more than $300m in the 1980’s. Working in banking at the time, I well remember Friedrich and what he did and so I was very interested to read this book. As a fan of Flanagan’s incredible, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, I had very high expectations.

Kif tries desperately, against a pressing timeline, to get information from Ziggy only to find that his subject is not only close mouthed but when he does say something, it is merely a multitude of lies. How is Kif expected to pull together a memoir of fifty to sixty thousand words?

As you would expect the book is very well written and the prose at times, breathtaking. However, I found it painstakingly slow. By page one hundred, the premise about Kif, his writer’s angst and his struggles with Ziggy, so repetitive it barely kept me interested.

Then things seemed to turn. Kif’s mental state slowly deteriorates as his own violence emerges from the growing struggle about his art which he uses as an excuse for not taking enough responsibility for his family and himself. His growing frustration with the lies and lack of information from Ziggy matched my own discontent as I doggedly hoped for something to happen with this character.

Unlikeable, Kif was self-absorbed and this was probably the point. Ziggy was an oddball and should have had enough charm to entice any trusting person into his web of deceit, yet somehow I didn’t feel this was as convincing as it was meant to be. The development of their relationship seemed unbelievable. Perhaps if Ziggy had been more co-operative as a character, spinning plausible and consistent lies which Kif later uncovers, the relationship toward the end may have worked better. But who am I to recast the story? Perhaps it’s not really fiction after all.

There were moments of humour, frustration and tension. Sorry Richard, I love your books, just not this one.

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