Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Paul Auster's Invisible

I've read a fair bit of Paul Auster's output now. I think the best way to give a balanced impression of my experience of this, his latest, is to say that familiarity does indeed breed contempt. It's an uncomplicated read which promises all sorts of strange screw turns and delivers none of them.

I came into Auster's writing via Leviathan and then The New York Trilogy (and also the remarkable graphic version of the first of the trilogy, City Of Glass). Recently I quite enjoyed the straightforward if far-fetched storytelling of The Music Of Chance and the more ruminative, NY-centric Brooklyn Follies.

With Invisible though we return to literature as artful but ineffective as that first used on Mr. Vertigo. Invisible is written in at least four perspectives - three narrators, one in the first and third person - and hints at a remarkable semantic-metaphysical twist to come. That it doesn't isn't simply a disappointment; rather it exposes the self-conscious formalism of the book as an affectation. In fact the book is probably meant as an experiment in the slipperiness or even evanescence or reported narrative. It remains an experiment though, no point ever being made.

Worse than this, as one does when one reads a number of books by the same author, 'the voice' becomes overarching. The book is populated by at least half a dozen characters but with the exception of the cul-de-sac anti-magus Rudolf Bron, they all sound the same as the principal protagonist. This character-homogeneity is vaguely familiar from previous fiction and I begin to wonder how it is that films get made when the characters are so similar - and there are films, including a self-directed Lulu On The Bridge:

It also has trite sex and simply too many hackneyed turns of phrase (there's a an embarrassing moment where he describes the bland hyperbole of tourist literature but I had assumed that was just his own voice). Other than some sort of cipher for a personal memoir, I don't really understand exactly why he wrote it at all.

Two things I like about Auster. Firstly, I like the surrealism, inventing meaning out of coincidence and investing outrageous improbability with credibility. There's a bit of magic in his confection which I'd like to think is, in fact, invested with a real sense of philosophical acumen (although this book is manifestly prosaic). Secondly, I like the manner in which he deals with older men, their shortcomings and the honest manner in which they deal with their grief and failures. Unfortunately this book is an account of an old man's regret with that character excised from the story.

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