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Konfidenz by Ariel Dorfman
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Konfidenz (1995)

by Ariel Dorfman

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It takes a talented writer to pull off an extended maybe-it-is-maybe-it-isn't mindgame between two characters. And it takes something close to a genius to turn the tables, aim the mindgames at his readers, and leave us begging for more. This book reads as rapidly as a play or screenplay, but one written by an heir to Borges and Kafka. - Adam
  stephencrowe | Nov 11, 2015 |
There are many books dealing with vast and shadowy conspiracies, plots where everyone is a suspect, and mysteries where hints are dropped but there are no firm clues to speak of. Just look at the works of John le Carré for an example of these tropes done right. Konfidenz covers these familiar topics, but it is more than just another boilerplate example of the genre. Its willingness to confront the nature of fiction and the role of the author elevates it to something more, something worth reading.

When Konfidenz starts it is easy to write off what it is doing as a gimmick. Most of the text is dialogue, like a play without the stage direction, and eventually the author is introduced into the text as a character of sorts, commenting on the action thus far. Nothing special at first, especially considering that the drama of the main plot of espionage agents in Paris is periodically undercut by the author spelling out just how every situation could be a lie, a set-up for some other character in the story. These interjections kill all subtlety, hammering home what a clever reader was aware of pages earlier.

The book is no mere mystery-thriller, though. As the title suggests, this book is about putting your trust in something. Who do you trust in a work of fiction: The characters? Here the characters are anything but up-front, even at the end of the book it is unclear who can be trusted and who was telling lies. The author? Here the author introduces himself as an interested party, and a very unreliable one at that, more subject to the vicissitudes of the story than a controlling force. The book in total? A recurring theme of the book is that we accept stories that are interesting, that tell us something we want to hear, instead of the truth. With a theme like that it's impossible to have complete faith in any conclusion the novel introduces.

This lack of certainty is the novel's main strength- while other espionage thrillers are the literary equivalent of action movies, entertaining but lacking depth, Konfidenz raises questions about the nature of fiction and the nature of narratives. Is Konfidenz telling a distinct story, or stranding the reader in a morass from which there is no escape? Is it a creation of the author, or is the author just a conduit, another character through which the story has come into being? Can we know anything at the end of the book, or is it all a dream created in the shadow of numerous coup attempts, exiles, and hidden plots? Konfidenz isn't about answers, it's about questions, and in this genre that makes the book far more interesting than the competition. Gimmicky? Yes, but with a purpose.

Overall a standard tale made something more by the insertion of the author as a character and the focus on the nature of fiction. Normally I would give something like this four stars, but much to my surprise this entire work has almost completely evaporated from my mind only a couple months after having read it. I can barely remember what happened in it, and all the interesting nuances I discussed above aren't things I retained now that I'm rereading this review in July. This is probably in part due to the fact that I've been plowing though many books this year, but even so there are many other books I've read this year that have left a far stronger memory than Konfidenz. Unfortunately therefore I must rate this book only 3 stars, as an interesting curiosity that fails to make a lasting impression. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
Konfidenz--a disorienting, sexually and politically intense book in a postmodern vein--feels to me like the kind of book NYRB puts out. The point of view shifts from chapter to chapter, and the idea of the "reliability" of a point of view does not really apply--which is certainly the author's intention. The author's maleness really comes through. I wasn't really won over until about halfway through, but I'd say it's worth reading. ( )
  tercat | Nov 19, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 156478293X, Paperback)

Told almost exclusively through dialogue, Konfidenz opens with a woman entering a hotel room and receiving a call from a mysterious stranger who seems to know everything about her and the reasons why she has fled her homeland. Over the next nine hours he tells her many disturbing things about her lover (who may be in great danger), the political situation in which they are enmeshed, and his fantasies of her. A terse political allegory that challenges our assumptions about character, the foundations of our knowledge, and the making of history, Konfidenz draws the reader into a postmodern mystery where nothing--including the text itself--is what it seems. First published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1995), most recent paperback Vintage (1998).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:21 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Told almost exclusively through dialogue, Konfidenz opens with a woman entering a hotel room and receiving a call from a mysterious stranger who seems to know everything about her and the reasons why she has fled her homeland. Over the next nine hours he tells her many disturbing things about her lover (who may be in great danger), the political situation in which they are enmeshed, and his fantasies of her. A terse political allegory that challenges our assumptions about character, the foundations of our knowledge, and the making of history, Konfidenz draws the reader into a postmodern mystery where nothing--including the text itself--is what it seems.… (more)

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