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Saturday, January 9, 2010

"Invisible" by Paul Auster (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Order "Invisible" HERE (or use the Search Inside feature to read from it)
Paul Auster at Wikipedia
Read an Extract Here

INTRODUCTION: I have never read anything by Paul Auster before though I was aware of his fame. I saw some reviews of this novel that intrigued me and when I saw it featured prominently in a chain bookstore, I browsed it and got hooked on the first pages so I got a copy immediately and I could not put it down until very late at night when I finished it. A "mainstream literary" novel with a very sfnal plot, full of twists and turns, as well as a technical feat of narration in various modes, all combining successfully in an unitary whole.

OVERVIEW/FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Invisible" stands at about 320 pages and is divided into four parts. The first three parts follow Adam Walker, the novel's main character in the crucial three seasons of 1967 (Spring, Summer, Fall) when as a twenty year old student, he is embroiled in events that will mark him for life.

These three parts are loosely connected by the meta-narrator, a currently famous writer and former college roommate of Adam, who forty years or so later is contacted by Adam with a request for help to put together the three parts in a novel. The three parts represent also a feat of technical achievement, being narrated in first, second and third person respectively, all keeping the voice of Adam consistent and fresh. There is a coda like fourth part in which the unnamed meta-narrator investigates further some of the previously described events and sheds more light on them through the diary of a main character from the third part.

A coming of age story, an existential mystery, a page turner full of twists,
"Invisble" is a novel you do not want to put down once you start. Despite it's relative shortness as pages go, it packs the punch of novels twice its size.

ANALYSIS:The first paragraph of the novel sets the tone for what will come later; ominous foreshadowing and some of the twists of the novel are already implied here:

"I shook his hand for the first time in the spring of 1967. I was a sec­ond-​year stu­dent at Columbia then, a know-​noth­ing boy with an ap­petite for books and a be­lief (or delu­sion) that one day I would be­come good enough to call my­self a po­et, and be­cause I read po­et­ry, I had al­ready met his name­sake in Dante’s hell, a dead man shuf­fling through the fi­nal vers­es of the twen­ty-​eighth can­to of the In­fer­no. Bertran de Born, the twelfth-​cen­tu­ry Proven├žal po­et, car­ry­ing his sev­ered head by the hair as it sways back and forth like a lantern—sure­ly one of the most grotesque im­ages in that book-​length cat­alogue of hal­lu­ci­na­tions and tor­ments."

Adam Walker, the earnest, idealistic but naive student and Rudolf Born the French visiting professor, jaded, all knowing and with a beautiful and seemingly mysterious girlfriend to boot, a chance meeting and almost everything follows from here.

At the beginning of the novel, Adam seems to be the archetypal innocent twenty year old, student, relatively privileged and sheltered, interested in poetry and girls who gets attracted in the orbit of an older, seemingly rich and successful mentor and we think we know at least in general terms where the novel will go, until of course the rug is pulled from under us and everything changes. From then on we *must* follow Adam and discover what was misleading, what was false and what was true and of course, each new twist will make us revisit all that came before and see how little we understood from such a seemingly straightforward tale.

Juxtaposed with meditation on violence, war and the whole ferment and turbulence of the period, the focus on the several main characters and their interactions pays off in a deeply moving personal novel. Highly, highly recomended.


The Fantasizer said...

This review is prime example of why I love FBC. Your reviews make me wanna run straight off to get the darn books!!
You rock!

Larry said...

Glad you enjoyed the book. Did you catch who was/were the "invisible" of the title?

Liviu said...

The Fantasizer: thank you for your kind words

Larry: I thought "invisible" refers first and foremost to "our" hidden personality aspects that we close off from the world, maybe even from ourselves too unless push comes to shove so to speak, but I may be wrong of course

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