F

The lights in the subway shrink, become a single patch, then disappear. Beauty has no need of art, it has no need of us, either, it has no need of witnesses, quite the opposite. Gaping observers detract from it, it blazes most brightly where no one can see it: broad landscapes devoid of houses, the changing shapes of clouds in the early evening, the washed-out grayish red of old brick walls, bare trees in winter mists, cathedrals, the reflection of the sun in a puddle of oil, the mirrored skyscrapers of Manhattan, the view out an airplane window right after it’s climbed through the layer of clouds, old people’s hands, the sea at any time of day, and empty subway stations like this one—the yellow light, the haphazard pattern of cigarette butts on the ground, the peeling advertisements, still fluttering in the slipstream of the train, although the train itself has just disappeared.

From Daniel Kehlmann’s fragmented, clever, challenging F. In a book stocked with Karamazov-ian echoes (distorted and playful as they are), Kehlmann makes Ivan Friedland his “Alyosha” (i.e. an attempt to write a fundamentally good character) – and in the process gives his Rubik’s cube of a novel a beating heart.

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