The Story of My Baldness comes bearing many a postmodern gimmick that should, on paper, make it a trial to the patience of readers. The novel is, first off, a prank: The author’s real name is Arnon Grunberg, who had previously won the Netherlands’ Anton Wachter prize for debut fiction for his 1994 novel Blue Mondays. When he won it again in 2000, as Van Der Jagt, a flyspecked literary scandal erupted around the book, and the honor was revoked.
The novel proper features a compulsively wisecracking, self-aware narrator, who also goes by the name Marek Van Der Jagt. He is a young philosophy student who has adopted the quest for “l’amour fou” as his life’s mission, despite the handicaps of an Oedipal attachment to his dead mother and a diminutive manhood (measuring, as he puts it, “three-quarters of a pinky, when viewed charitably and with an open mind”). He embarks on an ill-advised homeopathic regimen, which produces the hairless condition referenced in the book’s title.
Yet for all this antic farce, The Story of My Baldness is also oddly reflective, filled with half-serious philosophical maxims, on the order of “all lack of talent is criminal.” Which is to say that Arnon Grunberg may be guilty of ginning up a scandal, but he has committed no crime.