Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The age of Auster

In September both my housemates urged me to read The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. So I did. And thoroughly enjoyed it; a strange, hyper-meta-fiction work that subverts the crime fiction genre, while also being very compelling and confusing in equal measures. A cheap airport thriller it is not. After that I read Man in the the Dark, also lent by my housemate, and enjoyed that too.

Glancing down a list of other books by Auster I spied one called Music of Chance. I went into a book shop and, not only found it straightaway, but next to it was another Auster called Leviathan - it was clearly a sign. I read both of these while on my flights to and from Slovakia (see post below) and returned home eager for more. I found The Brooklyn Follies for £2 in a charity shop, and then bought Mr Vertigo, Timbuktu, Moon Palace, and The Book of Illusions from Amazon, while someone at work lent me Travels in the Scriptorium. I finished the last of these - Moon Palace - last night. Ten Auster's in two months.

Of these my favourites were Timbuktu, Mr Vertigo, Leviathan and Music of Chance. Timbuktu is told from the perspective of a dog, Mr Vertigo is about a boy who can fly - what's not to be intrigued about? Travels in the Scriptorium was my least favourite - a poor man's New York Trilogy - and the rest a mixture of the very good and some slightly flater moments - The Book of Illusions, for instance, starts off very strongly but fades off somewhat towards the end.

There are a lot of reoccurring themes, motifs and plots elements in a lot of these works. Many character come into money in different ways (inheritance mainly), eliminating Auster having to worry about what his character do to get by, instead having them spend time in long, strange periods of isolation, often retelling, or writing, stories, or spending time sat in rooms writing in notebooks. In both Moon Palace and Book of Illusions the central character spends a great deal of the novel - almost a third or a half - hearing the life story of another central character - thus the books are essentially two stories bound up in one.

Furthermore character names and historical figures crop up all the time too - Zimmer, Blume, Quinn, while Nathaniel Hawthorne and other Hawthorne family members are frequently referenced. There is always a section in which a character either goes to live in France, or has lived in France in the past - something Auster himself did - while they are almost always set exclusively in and around New York. Lots of characters start off intending to destroy themselves - "I was looking for a quiet place to die" - first line, The Brooklyn Follies - only to find themselves in a strange, quirky story which ultimately saves them - not in a Hollywood happy-ever-after way, more in a dark, life-goes-on way. Sometimes these repetitions of plot are irritating, and other times they are not. It's hard to explain that but although each time it happens it's easy to reference to the other book(s) where it happens it's more important when read within the context of the book and the story as to how noticeably it sticks out as another Austerism.

Auster's writing style is one thing I am a great fan of. There are some wonderful descriptions in each and every book - some sentence are so intriguing or well-written it make you stop and re-read them; often they are so evocative as to conjure up another entire story, as if they could be the first line of another complete novel. He has an uncanny ability to philosophise on ideas of chance and fate (in his characters voices') without it sounding trite or clichéd but fresh and original. There is also a great emphasis placed on detail for details sake, rather than merely to fill paragraphs with descriptions. Indeed, since reading Auster I have rediscovered my creative writing bug and written one short story - and put online here - and have a couple of others bubbling away on my Google Documents.

So yeah, Paul Auster. There you go.


Siany said...

Hmmm... is there another book you'd suggest if I didn't get on with the New York Trilogy? I always hear such good things about the dude.

Dan W said...

music of chance, leviathan.

hayjane said...

I'm a fan of Timbuktu. And the title of this blog post.

Tim Holmes said...

Thanks for the tip Dan. My wife bought me some Auster years ago and I've been meaning to read more - now I will.