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Invisible by Paul Auster
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Feb 10, 10

Read in January, 2010

Readers of American author Paul Auster will be familiar with his penchant for metafictional tricks and autobiographical details, and will hence smile knowingly when Invisible opens in 1967 with narrator Adam Walker, a Columbia undergraduate, francophile and aspiring poet.

But this is not to say that Auster is flogging a dead horse with his 15th novel. Indeed, because of its coming-of-age themes, Invisible feels fresh, almost precocious, as if it were written by a brilliant if impatient young author – brilliant for its dazzling lyricism and narrative sleights-of-hand, impatient because, alas, as with many of Auster’s works, the writer has provided many storylines without any actual plot.

The novel is divided into quarters. In the first part, Adam meets Rudolf Born, a Swiss-French visiting professor teaching “the disasters of French colonialism”. Thus begins a somewhat perverted father-son relationship, with Born offering his live-in girlfriend to Adam to sleep with, and ends with a dark deed that shakes Adam to the core.

It is this deed that ends up shaping Adam’s life, as we find out in the next part, where the narrative jumps 40 years into the future to one James Freeman, a renowned author who is contacted by his former schoolmate, a leukaemia-stricken Adam, for advice on how to write an autobiographical book (the excerpt he encloses is the first part we have just read).

Encouraged by his friend, Adam proceeds to send him the second part, also autobiographical, a second-person narrative tour de force about the summer after he met Born, which Adam spent with his sister in New York. This is Auster at his best: Take this description of how Adam and his sister mourn the death of their younger brother every year by imagining what he would be like today: “For ten years now, he has been living this shadow existence inside you, a phantom being who has grown up in another dimension, invisible yet breathing...”

But this is Auster, and now doubts begin to creep in as to how true any of Adam’s “autobiography” is anyway. The third and fourth parts attempt to slap on some kind of closure with more is-it-true-or-isn’t-it games, before bringing the novel to an abrupt end.

Each part of this novel would work as a novella on its own, but the attempt to link them lacks a big payoff. Though this sounds disappointing, maybe there are authors you read for the story, and then there are those you read for the lyricism, the sheer pleasure of the prose excusing the lack of plot.
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Barry Totally agree with all of that!


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