From this prodigiously talented writer comes a stunningly original fictional life of the German director F. W. Murnau (1888–1931). Murnau ranks as a founding father of the cinema, not least for his legendary horror film, Nosferatu. Here he is revealed as a hermetic genius who turns against himself, becoming in a sense his own vampire. What shadows Jim Shepard’s Murnau—through the airfields of the Great War to Berlin in the twenties and to the virtual invention of filmmaking—is the conflict between his impossibly ...
From this prodigiously talented writer comes a stunningly original fictional life of the German director F. W. Murnau (1888–1931). Murnau ranks as a founding father of the cinema, not least for his legendary horror film, Nosferatu. Here he is revealed as a hermetic genius who turns against himself, becoming in a sense his own vampire. What shadows Jim Shepard’s Murnau—through the airfields of the Great War to Berlin in the twenties and to the virtual invention of filmmaking—is the conflict between his impossibly high ideals and his heartbreaking memories of love betrayed and love lost. From provincial Germany through Hollywood in its early days to the South Seas, Nosferatu charts a life at once artistic, intellectual, and deeply human. Ron Hansen provides an introduction to this Bison Books edition.
"Jim Shepard wrote a fictional biography of F. W. Murnau, a strange breed of man who made compelling art from life and whose life, it turns out, makes compelling art."—Small Spiral Notebook
"Mordantly funny and moving."—Entertainment Weekly
New York Times Book Review
"In Nosferatu, F. W. Murnau becomes his own subject—one of the undead, hollowed out and sucked dry by the love he has betrayed. The life, again, informs, deforms, and becomes the work."—New York Times Book Review
Mordantly funny and moving...Shepard captures the cut-and-paste excitement of early filmmaking, and he keeps Murnau's heart, broken and sad, quietly beating in our imagination.
Haunting...Shepard's finest novel. It appears just over a century after Dracula, and kjproves that the kingdom Stoker charted still has much of value to offer the imagination.
Brilliant...With the publication of this novel, there are now two splendid works of art called Nosferatu.
Though Murnau's coming out is handled with deft lyricism, this is no mere novel of gay awakening. And though Murnau has to face both casual and calculated homophobia, the real source of his pain lies deeper--in the mystery of what we can and cannot know about ourselves.
Jim Shepard's unusual new novel is an imaginative reconstruction of the life and work of F.W. Murnau, the greatest of all German film directors and one of the two or three real masters of the silent screen. -- Leslie Epstein, New York Times Book Review
The prolific and versatile Shepard (Batting Against Castro, 1996, etc.) offers in his intermittently enthralling fifth novel an empathetic fictionalized biography of the great German silent-film director F. W. Murnau (18881931). Born Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe to a deeply bourgeois Westphalian family, Shepard's protagonist is first seen, in 1907, as a reluctant student of philology at Charolottenburg, where he meets the invincible and sophisticated Hans Ehrenbaum-Degele, a budding poet who will become Wilhelm's schoolmate, soulmate, and lover—and whose aestheticism will encourage the self-created "Murnau" (the name of a Bavarian resort the two visit) to pursue his interest in the theater. These early pages are superb: Shepard has so thoroughly mastered the idiom and feel of the period that we seem to be inside a young Thomas Mann novel. The narrative then proceeds both through flashback (showing Wilhelm's unhappy boyhood) and straight chronology, moving forward first to Murnau's apprenticeship at Max Reinhardt's theater school in Berlin, his disturbing intimacy with such decadent eminences as poet Else Lasker-Schuller and homosexual film actor Conrad Veidt. There are splendid accounts of Murnau's wartime service as a fighter pilot (during which he "came to understand aviation as a new way of seeing") and later of the preparations for and filming of his vampire movie Nosferatu (a memorable vision of "The natural world operating under the shadow of the supernatural." But, alas, the story's second half unconvincingly telescopes the remainder of Murnau's (admittedly brief) career and life: the filming of Der Letzte Mann, distinguished by its use of a moving camera devised by hisbrilliant cinematographer Karl Freund; his star-crossed Tahitian collaboration (on Tabu) with documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty; and his death following an auto accident. This should have been a terrific novel—and a longer one. Its images simply flicker by so quickly that its power to involve and move is frustratingly dissipated.
Jim Shepard is the author of six novels and two short-story collections, including most recently Love and Hydrogen: New and Selected Stories and Project X. He teaches at Williams College and in the Warren Wilson MFA program. Ron Hansen is the author of numerous books, including A Stay against Confusion: Essays on Faith and Fiction and Atticus, a National Book Award finalist. He teaches writing and literature at Santa Clara University.