No 437 Me & Kaminski by Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Carol Brown Janeway

Daniel Kehlmann is fast becoming one of my favourite contemporary authors. Me & Kaminski is the fourth of his novels I have read, along with Fame, Tyll and You Should Have Left. I love the sharp playfulness of his novels and although Me & Kaminski feels slighter than the other books of his that I have read, I still enjoyed it’s diverting charms.

“At means nothing. Everything’s an illusion. And you know it and you have to go on.”

This satirical novel is a keen glimpse into the art world, going behind the scenes of gallery openings, reputations and academic studies to reveal a slightly more grubby portrait of self-important artists and their even more self-important acolytes all vying for attention.

Sebastian Zollner is a journalist and art critic. He is not a likeable man and amusingly gets into an argument with every person in the service industry he comes into contact with. Belligerent, arrogant and impatient, he has decided that he is going to write a biography of the legendary (depending on whom he asks) painter Manuel Kaminski. This decision seems more based on the fact that Zollner’s arch rival Behring has already written about Matisse and Freud, rather than any particular love Zollner has for Kaminski’s work.

First I had thought I should do a polemic, an attack on a famous painter or movement; a total trashing of photorealism, maybe, or a defense of photorealism, but then suddenly photorealism was out of fashion.

The ailing Kaminski, once a student of Matisse and friend of Picasso, is now practically blind, living in a secluded village in the Alps with his protective daughter Miriam and – as Zöllner’s is pleased to hear – may not be alive before the book is published, his death making for a handy selling point.

Zöllner has few scruples, and shows little hesitation in bullying his way into Kaminski’s house. His egomania doesn’t allow him to consider that Kaminski might in reality not be quite the legend he thinks he is. When he can’t get any good information from Kaminski he does some snooping and finds out that Therese, the love of Kaminski’s life, who was thought dead, is in fact alive and well and living on Germany’s east coast. Sensing a scoop that he can centre his biography around, Zöllner and Kaminski set off on a road trip to bring about a romantic reunion.

What follows is part art-world skewering and part road trip caper as Zöllner and Kaminski encounter unscrupulous car thieves, caring prostitutes and angry ex-wives. The art world send-up peaks at an absurd exhibition opening where everybody scrambles for Kaminski’s attention, even though none of them seem to remember any of his work.

Everyone says something different, almost everything is forgotten, and they all contradict one another. How am I supposed to find out things?

What lends the comedy some gravitas is the character of Kaminski himself, who, despite his age may be more astute and manipulative than at first he seems. His cryptic half-sentences suggests that Kaminski is the only one in the whole novel who is aware of the absurdity of the world in which he has found himself.

The final reunion with his lost love Therese, is a gorgeous blend of the comic and the tender. As he interrupts her watching an episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, the reader gets a touching glimpse at a relationship that could have been. Zöllner might not get the drama he was hoping for, but what he gets is something much more important.

Me & Kaminski is an accessible and humorous road trip into the worlds of art and journalism, satirising both. Although it could be seen as a little predictable, and lacks the depth of other Kehlmann novels I’ve read, it still makes some good philosophical points along the journey, exploring the nature of artistic legacy and reputation with a light touch.

I have two more of Kehlmann’s books in the 746 – F and his acclaimed best-seller Measuring the World. I am very much looking forward to both.


The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

15 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Great review! I love a good satirical swipe at the art world and this one looks really interesting. I haven’t read any books by Kehlmann before so maybe this one would be a good one to start with. Or would you recommend one of the others you enjoyed slightly more?

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on it!


  2. From your description, ‘Me and Kaminski’ apparently has that light humorous touch that I really like about Daniel Kehlmann’s work. This writer can keep things light and still make some serious points.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought the plot was a bit thin on this one, though it helped that I read it during a couple weeks of train travel in continental Europe, including through Austria. The two Kehlmanns you haven’t yet read are my favourites (though I haven’t yet finished Tyll or gotten hold of Fame). I hope you love them as much as I did!


    • Measuring the World was fascinating, switching between the scientist who stayed at home (whose name I have forgotten) and Humboldt who went out and explored the world. Ah, for the days when we could go out and do that, like travelling Europe by train. Tyll is on my wishlist too, but I haven’t heard of any of his others, so Cathy’s review has renewed my interest.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds so fantastic! It sounds like a really beautiful blend of satire and some moments of genuine feeling. That whole everyone flocking around him even though no one can quite remember what his work was makes me smile – people can be so dumb!


  5. He’s on my mental list of authors to try at some point – maybe not with this one as you’ve described it as somewhat slighter than his other books, although the art world setting very much appeals!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

The Book Decoder

Book Reviews By A Geek

Look Into Our Life

Our adventure through life and homeschooling in the UK

My Book Joy

Joy in reading and life


Books reviews with the occasional interview thrown in for good measure

Anne Is Reading

Books, books and more books

Lady Book Dragon

Books, reviews and more...

%d bloggers like this: