SECOND OPINION: First Person by Richard Flanagan

Review published on November 15, 2017.

This is the first Richard Flanagan book that I have read. Conscious that he has received good reviews, and is a former winner of the Booker Prize, I felt intrigued to explore his works. In this part novel, part memoir, Kif is asked to be a ghost writer for Siegried Heidl (Ziggy), the most notorious Australian con man, all before his trial in six weeks’ time. He has no experience as a ghost writer and is struggling in every sense of the word; for money, decent work and not to mention his pregnant wife and some personal strife at home. However, he is unshakeable in his abilities as a writer. So much so that it makes him obsessional and egocentric. Not necessarily particularly likeable qualities, which was a bold approach for a main character.

Ziggy is bizarre. Despite wanting the book written, he is bumptious, full of ramblings, of euphemisms, riddles and spouting mostly nonsense. Gif has the unenviable task of trying to form this into enlightening and entertaining chapters. And the description of him trying to do so goes on far too long and was exceptionally tedious. Instead of feeling the character’s frustration, I felt it directly as the reader instead. Having said that, the ability to read a character by what he doesn’t rather than what he does say is clever and revealing.

There is humour in this book that didn’t quite hit the right spot for me and there are some rather dark aspects to the characters, which gave it a murky edge. It is probably a different read for different people based on what you take away from it. It is in part based upon Richard’s earlier experiences as a young writer, where he accepted a ghost writing contract as he was struggling financially. Here he has conveyed that he wants to demonstrate that a memoir is essentially a construed fiction of its own account as only slanted elements of person’s life are ever revealed.

The writing and structure are exceptionally good. Richard has fantastic finesse with the use of language and the enviable ability of describing a lot in concentrated amounts. But the haphazard approach felt disagreeable and disorientating. At times, the book felt like it had no clear structure; it was difficult to tell what direction it was going in and so it left you feeling perplexed and mildly irritated. It was easy to read and propelled along, but something here failed to connect with me, which made my reading experience perfunctory as opposed to enjoyable. I think viewpoints will vary quite dramatically, much is the layering and skill within the writing. It has a reflective after burn, which I always rate as a skill in its own right, and so it is definitely one, if tempted to, you ought to give it a go. The writing is impressive and most definitely unique.

Sara Garland 3/2

First Person by Richard Flanagan
Chatto & Windus 9781784742195 hbk Nov 2017

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