In the early 00’s, I discovered Paul Auster. I think I was lucky to do it though his novel The Book of Illusions, which came to me as a shock, and introduced me to the importance of the overall ambiance of a story. The Book of Illusions is a glauque history that shall remain in my favorite books forever.
A couple of years after discovering it, I met Aliza, a compassionate and beautiful NY-PN jew girl who was about to change her job as a school teacher in LA for a new east-side life as a photographer. I remember giving her my copy of the book (which a time after I reordered on Amazon), as an hommage to us, to me meeting her. As silly gift from someone that is prone to giving books and CDs because those are the things he most know about.
Be it. Fifteen years after, I decided to read 4 3 2 1, Auster’s latest novel, and , his tenth in my shelf. Ten books by the same author, not many writers can make it. Only Le Carré, Houellebecq, Vargas Llosa and Perez-Reverte have that status in my library. I just also decided that 4 3 2 1 will be the last book I am reading from Paul Auster.
This has been a demanding book. Not only because of its 860 pages, making it one of the longest book I have read, but mostly because it has been hard to have fun (in the sense of enjoying reading it, not finding the story funny) with it.
Some weeks ago, I wrote about Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth. I couldn’t stop referring to Roth through this book. The child jew in the 1950, the liberal young jew in the 1960. Newark. There is also a lot of references to his own previous novels: Columbia University, Brooklyn, rural Thoreau, Paris, translation, film-talking, the radical anti-war left (that also transported me to another Roth book: America Pastoral). You know that all that is mostly autobiographical. And there lies the problem with 4 3 2 1. Compared to the prose of Roth, and compared to his own past work, 4 3 2 1 is a difficult book to digest.
Moreover, he has created four stories out of a single character. Stories that show the different life paths that the same person could follow. However, you will be surprised to see that they don’t differ too much. There is a deterministic back logic in this construction. You cannot be anything you want. You follow a path. And this, I guess, carries a stronger significance for the People of the Book, as the aunt Mildred says in the novel.
This is the moment where I feel Paul Auster can teach me no more. This is the moment to say goodbye to him. And there lies the difference between Houellebecq, Vargas Llosa, Le Carré, Auster on one side, and Perez-Reverte on the other. The former are analysts of the society. Their impressions become at some point outdated, and so do their books. The latter is an historian, he is not interested in dissecting our times . I am willing to follow him back to the past.
It has been a gratifying period. For that, thank you and goodbye Paul.