It’s a gigantic book, crammed with insanely creative gags, though these thin towards the end; the material about Trump is a bit stale. Yet Kaufman gouges the reader for laughs with expert force. B has an awful habit of getting his cultural references wrong, perhaps through incipient dementia, or perhaps because he occupies an alternative universe in which they are correct: “‘Are you talking to me?’ I say, reminding myself of Robert De Niro in the TV series Taxi.”
In the surreal 600 pages that follow (clown fetishes, hyper-intelligent ants, time-reversing microbes and Nazi cloning labs are not the half of it), B. attempts to reconstruct the film with the aid of grief counsellors, therapists and hypnotists. This “novelization” of Ingo’s film has no use for the rules that make the world make sense or whose practicalities might limit a filmmaker. Linear temporality, narrative cause and effect, identity over time, gravity: Kaufman ignores them all. I could read Antkind backwards and upside down and it would still go dizzyingly over my head.
Like a Kaufman film, Antkind is crammed with ideas and goes on for far too long. And, like a Kaufman film, it’s frequently too damn cute for its own good. Or, to coin a phrase, you whim some, you lose some.
Charlie Kaufman’s cinematic reputation is assured thanks to the likes of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, but I doubt his debut novel will be remembered so readily.
Kaufman’s films are masterpieces of narrative construction, but the seemingly limitless horizons of the novel form seem to have gone to his head.
There is a queasy sense of disregard in all these shenanigans. It’s as if, without the restrictions imposed by cinema, Kaufman thinks it is his right to just chuck in any passing fancy. It is almost childlike in its sense of there not being any limitations. One puff for it describes it as “Nabokovian”, and in a generous mood I might see an echo of Kinbote, the deranged editor in Pale Fire. But Nabokov was tight, and precise and elegant. This is the equivalent of thinking that wearing a baseball cap backwards counts as being avant-garde.
For better or worse – I can sense the pigeons circling – Antkind is unadaptable. As a contemplation of middle-aged career woes, it might have been scaldingly honest, but it’s more often sneaky and guarded, and it just piles up. It doesn’t balloon to fill its own covers, or burst in that magically sad Synecdoche way. If you want to believe there’s no end to Kaufman’s imagination, there’s certainly no end to it here.