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 central character 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.

Arnon Grunberg
Original title

After Mehlman’s death his son, for whom he never showed much concern, receives a package containing unpublished fragments of a novel.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.

'Phantom Pain' is Arnon Grunberg’s most complex and accomplished novel to date.

The Economist
Arnon Grunberg
Arnon Grunberg (b. 1971) debuted at the age of 23 with the wry, humorous novel novel 'Blauwe maandagen' (Blue Mondays, 1994), which brought him instant success. Some of his other titles are 'Figuranten' (Silent Extras, 1997), 'De asielzoeker' (The Asylum Seeker, 2003), 'De joodse messias' (The Jewish Messiah, 2004), 'Moedervlekken' (Birthmarks, 2016) and 'Goede mannen' (Good Men, 2018).
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