Arnon Grunberg - Phantom Pain
‘If the laws of economics apply to anything, then it’s to emotions,’ is one of Robert Mehlman’s many one-liners. Mehlman, the narrator in Phantom Pain, is tormented by writer’s block, his only successful publication being a cookery book called The Polish-Jewish Kitchen in 69 Recipes, which he wrote purely for money. He briefly became world famous when his book was interpreted as a positive take on coming to terms with the Holocaust – only Arnon Grunberg, or perhaps Woody Allen, could come up with a joke like that.
After Mehlman’s death his son, for whom he never showed much concern, receives a package containing unpublished fragments of a novel. They tell of hilarious episodes from Mehlman’s life, portraying a man seeking to escape from himself. Sheltering behind cynical humour, incapable of genuine contact, all that matters to him as a writer is the question: ‘Is there a story in it?’
The title refers not only to the pain Mehlman thinks he can feel in his paralyzed limbs but the pain caused to the son by his father’s tragedy. It also symbolizes the dilemmas and fears of the writer, described so effectively by Grunberg in this absurdist novel about a failed author.
Arnon Grunberg is one of the Netherlands’ most popular new writers. He made his debut at the age of twenty-three with the autobiographical novel Blue Mondays (1994) and has since written no less than fifteen novels, many of which have won literary awards. He has also published essays, poems and journalistic work, reporting on his travels to areas of conflict worldwide and to Eastern Europe. When not travelling, Grunberg lives and works in New York.
- ‘Grunberg’s most complex and accomplished novel to date.’ – The Economist