Review: Antkind

Kaufman’s genius makes me wonder if his book is a giant parody, writes Anne Joseph


Antkind by Charlie Kaufman (Harper Collins, £18.99)

Narrator and protagonist, B. Rosenberger Rosenberg repeatedly insults the film-maker (and author of this book), Charlie Kaufman, showing his complete lack of respect for him or his work.

According to Rosenberg, the creator of Being John Malkovich, Anomalisa and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a third-rate talent, “an atrocious little screenwriter ”and a“ puffed up self-promoter”.

He regards Kaufman’s film, Adaptation, based on the novel, The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean, as bizarrely amateurish and offensive.

By contrast, he praises director Judd Apatow, whom Rosenberg believes “remains among the most essential surviving voices in cinema.”

Rosenberg is a failed film critic. He describes himself as “perhaps the only truly conscious movie viewer in the world” and has an arrogant, inflated sense of his scholarly abilities, frequently attacking academics and peers alike, as well as referencing his own, supposedly well-received monographs.

Despite his surname, Rosenberg insists that he is not Jewish. This is one of the novel’s repetitious, jokes.

He is also consistently keen to prove his “woke” credentials, with limited success. Bald, with a long, unwieldy, grey beard that he likes to think conveys eccentricity and lack of interest in fashion, Rosenberg is simply a bit of a loser.

Antkind is Kaufman’s debut novel, and he returns to some of the themes that have occupied his movies, such as the nature of memory and perceptions of reality.

His work is renowned for its zany humour and absurdity but, in a 700-plus page novel, this is sometimes overburdening.

On a trip to St Augustine, Florida, where he is researching a book about gender and cinema, Rosenberg meets a 119-year-old auteur, Ingo Cutbirth, who has spent 90 years creating a stop-motion animation film featuring puppets. 

It has a three-month running time and, upon watching it, B Rosenberg declares it, “the greatest single piece of art ever created." After Ingo’s sudden death, Rosenberg decides that his life’s mission is to ensure the film is appropriately celebrated and shown to all. But, on his return to New York, the masterpiece is destroyed in a fire, leaving just one frame. 

The narrative switches between B’s real life and that of Ingo Cutbirth’s lost film — which Rosenberg spends several hundred pages attempting to reconstruct — aided by several hypnotherapists.

From time travel, obsessive love and a witty but unsuccessful stint in shoe-retail to clown fetishism and a war between Slammy’s fast-food chain and robotic versions of Donald Trump (Trunk) robots, not to mention scenes between a 1940s comedy duo, it is easy to get lost in Kaufman’s innumerable digressions.

At one point, B Rosenberger Rosenberg sleeps in a sock drawer, then behind a bimah. Packed with intellectual references, long paragraphs, imaginative weirdness and chaos, Antkind is a challenging, dizzying read.

On reflection, Kaufman’s genius makes me wonder if his book is a giant parody, aimed variously at celebrity obsession, political correctness and of course the film industry — its critics and film-makers — giving Kaufman the last laugh.

Anne Joseph is a freelance journalist 

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