Book Review First Person

Dundas Readers recently read….

First Person by Richard Flanagan

About the Book

Kif Kehlmann, a young penniless writer, is rung in the middle of the night by the notorious con man and corporate criminal, Siegfried Heidl. About to go to trial for defrauding the banks of $700 million, Heidl offers Kehlmann the job of ghostwriting his memoir. He has six weeks to write the book, for which he’ll be paid $10,000.But as the writing gets under way, Kehlmann begins to fear that he is being corrupted by Heidl. As the deadline draws closer, he becomes ever more unsure if he is ghostwriting a memoir, or if Heidl is rewriting him – his life, his future. Everything that was certain grows uncertain as he begins to wonder: who is Siegfried Heidl – and who is Kif Kehlmann?As time runs out, one question looms above all others: what is the truth?By turns compelling, comic, and chilling, this is a haunting journey into the heart of our age.

Book Club Comments

A combination of history, satire and autobiography by accomplished Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan. Aspiring young author, Kif Kehlmann is contacted in the middle of the night by a notorious corporate fraudster, Siegfried Heidl to take on the job of ghost writing his autobiography in only six weeks.  With a wife and young daughter and twins on the way, the ten thousand dollar fee seems too good to miss so he flies to Melbourne to meet Heidl and his publishers and begin work. However, it soon becomes clear that Heidl is a manipulative liar who has cheated the banks out of millions of dollars and may even be a killer.


Kif becomes more desperate as time passes and he is no closer to learning anything useful about Heidl although his boyhood friend Ray, who has worked with him provides some possible insights into his murky background. After pages and pages of exasperating, repetitive attempts to understand this thoroughly obnoxious man and the increasing hold he has over him, most readers would give up on these very unlikeable characters. On reflection however, I realised that Flanagan had cleverly succeeded in bringing out in the reader the very feelings Kif is struggling with!

In a last ditch attempt to get some answers to specific questions and a signed document to allow the publishing of the proposed book, Kif travels to Heidl’s remote house and an inevitable violent, bloody showdown results in Heidl’s death.  However, as we learn in the remaining chapters of the book, Kif cannot free himself from the pernicious influence of Heidl. His marriage to the only sympathetic character, his wife Suzy, eventually fails and he moves from Tasmania to work in television as a writer and producer of “pulp” television. He is professionally successful and wealthy but in his quiet moments he knows that he is nothing other than a pale copy of the immoral and hated con man Heidl.

This complex novel may be admired as a literary tour de force but it’s certainly not light and enjoyable reading!

Book Review A Gentleman in Moscow

MJ Readers Book Club recently read….

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

About the Book

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavour to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

Group’s Comments

On the surface, ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ is the story of a Russian count dealing with the fallout of the Russian revolution on his living situation. However, it is so much more than that and this created a lively discussion in our group.

Russian history was woven throughout the story without suffocating the plot. The physical and character descriptions were vivid and the hotel where the count lived came to life along with everyone with whom he interacted. He displayed loyalty, friendship, good manners and ethics despite his restrictions. He turned what could have been horrific into something positive. He showed the power of the human spirit that resonated with us especially during our recent lockdown experiences. Some members struggled with the Russian names and didn’t fully engage with the story but overall we recommend this novel as it certainly made us think and ponder.