Friday, January 5, 2018


I heard about Paul Auster's novel novel in the London Review of Books. I always like unusual story structures, and also time travel, so the idea of a story told of four parallel lives of one person intrigued me. There is no sci-fi in it, it isn't really time travel. Just a storytelling structure where minor things are different in a person's life, and the ripple effects are illustrated. The chapters are numbered as 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 2.1, 2.2, ... so that we cycle through the four lives of the four versions of the protagonist. For me, by far, the most interesting parts were the childhoods of the four Archie Fergusons. As the characters grew older, it felt like the author was dwelling on memories of political events from the sixties that surely were a big deal at the time, but to me felt stale and dull. The autobiography of the book shows through a great deal -- for many parts of it, one gets the feeling that the author has set aside storytelling in favor of remembering, which felt somewhat self-indulgent to me. I did the audiobook, read by the author, and I felt sure that I could hear a different tone in his voice when moving from storytelling into remembering.

In short, I liked the front parts better than the back parts, and did feel like it went on longer than was polite. It did manage to come around to a clever sort of conclusion. In some ways, the book made me think of Proust, the way it is self-indulgent, and so much about memory and detail. I didn't regret reading it, but on the other hand, I can't say I recommend it, either. Maybe if it was 40% shorter and had a few more surprises in it, I would. When it was focused on storytelling, I liked it -- but during the times where it felt like the author was writing for himself and not for us, I was sad because it makes the book feel like a clever idea that didn't really reach its full potential.

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