Talia Carner's Reviews > The Brooklyn Follies

The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster
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Oct 01, 2011

really liked it

This is a novel in which the subtext is by far more interesting than the narration appearing on the page. And Auster seems to have worked hard to weave this subtext.

The retired, recently divorced Nat becomes reacquainted with his nephew, Tom, formerly an English professor who's failed to complete his Ph.D. Tom says, "Poe was artifice and the gloom of midnight chambers. Thoreau was simplicity and the radiance of the outdoors." In these words Auster captures the two main characters: Tom, the erudite yet bewildered and lost literary expert, who, like Poe, epitomizes disappointment and gloom, and Uncle Nat, the uncomplicated man who watches life on the sidelines and who is more interested in rehabilitating the lives of others than his own.

From that point on, the novel is peppered with borrowed literary concepts, starting with Rousseau ("As long as man had the courage to reject what society told him to do, he could live life on his own terms.") to Voltaire, in the form of the colorful, yet tragic, figure of Harry.

But that is also where the problem of this novel lies: A reader must work very hard at getting to the bottom of every scene--if not of every paragraph--in order to make the story come to life. The surface story is merely a mild plot that lacks either momentum or tension. When events finally move at the end, they are narrated succinctly, as an afterthought, a summary of what should have been allowed to bloom on the page in real time and to reach a climatic crescendo. If the reader has developed any attachment to the characters, she would be disappointed at the lack of emotions when these characters finally seem to resolve their problems. The summarizing tone, like an epilogue, must have been written on one leg at a Brooklyn phone booth rather than toiled at at the author's desk.

I could not help but compare the lackluster narrator of "Brooklyn Follies," Nat, to Auster's engaging narrator in "The Book of Illusions," David Zimmer. And when I thought of the unforgettable brilliant depiction of the comedian Hector Mann and compared it to the flat persona of Tom in "Brooklyn Follies," I wished that Auster would do better next time.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Edward ". . .subtext is far more interesting than the narration appearing on the page." I think you're on to something important; it seems to me that the two never match up very well. Is it worth the reader's effort to try to make them mesh?


Talia Carner As I wrote above: "... A reader must work very hard at getting to the bottom of every scene--if not of every paragraph--in order to make the story come to life. "

Overall, I like Auster.


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