Nov 10, 2010

REVIEW: Sunset Park by Paul Auster

"Getting it is pretty much all there is to an Auster novel — it’s all there is to get. Starting with 1985’s New York Trilogy, he has written 14 novels whose aims and preoccupations are now worked out with the absent-minded perfection of a man whipping through a cross-word puzzle he has himself devised. Their plots are simple. A male writer or intellectual lives out a life of monkish ritual, cauterized by grief for a missing family member, until one day, he is asked to solve a mystery, or complete some quixotic task that drops in out of the blue. In The Music of Chance, the hero is asked to build a brick wall whose sole purpose, as I recall, is to symbolize the meaninglessness of human endeavour, a theme which appears on page 23, 34 37, 42, and thereafter at regular intervals, like a dripping tap, until some reader thinks to join the dots and publish their doctoral thesis entitled “Risky Business: Chance and Late Capitalism in the Fiction of Paul Auster”. Auster’s work would be inconceivable without the existence of post-graduate education in America. Half a century ago, Samuel Beckett chiseled out works with the last-gasp austerity of a man carving his name the wall of his prison cell. Now we have Auster, essaying the themes of High Modernism for a readership of people paid, or paying, to study Beckett for a living — coffee-table modernism for the guest-lecturer circuit. There’s no crime in that, just a terrific comedown from the aesthetic high-mindedness in which the tales come wrapped. When he first appeared on the scene, Auster’s tales were hazily abstract parables that turned up their nose at milieu or period. These days, he tickles the concerns of Democrat-voting, PEN-supporting, semi-tenured Brooklyn bohemians with the same mixture of guile and flattery with which John Grisham secures his readers in middle-management." — from my review of Paul Auster's Sunset Park for The Sunday Times

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