Kif Kehlmann, a young, penniless writer, thinks he’s finally caught a break when he’s offered $10,000 to ghostwrite the memoir of Siegfried “Ziggy” Heidl, the notorious con man and corporate criminal. Ziggy is about to go to trial for defrauding banks for $700 million; they have six weeks to write the book.
But Ziggy swiftly proves almost impossible to work with: evasive, contradictory, and easily distracted by his still-running “business concerns”—which Kif worries may involve hiring hitmen from their shared office. Worse, Kif finds himself being pulled into an odd, hypnotic, and ever-closer orbit of all things Ziggy. As the deadline draws near, Kif becomes increasingly unsure if he is ghostwriting a memoir, or if Ziggy is rewriting him—his life, his future, and the very nature of the truth.
By turns comic, compelling, and finally chilling, First Person is a haunting look at an age where fact is indistinguishable from fiction, and freedom is traded for a false idea of progress.
This harrowing if unsubtle story of insidious corruption is a combination of satire, tragicomedy, melodrama, and polemic from Flanagan, winner of the Man Booker for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Narrator Kif Kehlmann is a desperate man. Determined to finish his first novel, nearly destitute, and responsible for a toddler daughter and a wife pregnant with twins, he agrees to take a job that seems too good to be true. If he can ghostwrite the autobiography of a notorious Australian con man convicted of embezzling $700 million, he'll earn $10,000; if he fails to complete the contract in six weeks, however, he'll get nothing. The noxious criminal, Siegfried Heidl, is a brutal, repulsive embodiment of evil. He refuses to provide the details Kif needs, but asks intrusive questions about Kif's family. The menacing tone established early on loses momentum as Kif struggles and fails to get facts from Heidl, while realizing he's losing his own moral probity in a Faustian bargain. Flanagan is sharply satiric about Australia and its publishing industry, political chicanery, and corporate malfeasance; the heavy Australian focus, however, may be a stumbling block to American readers not already familiar with the terrain. 50,000-copy announced first printing.