Lars Guthrie's Reviews > Invisible

Invisible by Paul Auster
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Jan 31, 2010

it was amazing

I hesitated in rating this one, because it was so unsettling. Then, being unsettled can be valuable. It is also Auster, mannered and clever, fey and twee, all at once, with an idiosyncratic voice so ubiquitous that it's hard differentiating between the characters behind the multiple first-person narratives in 'Invisible.' But like the 'The New York Trilogy,' Auster somehow pulls the rabbit out of the hat. Artifice becomes effective trope; the trick turns into truth.

'Invisible' is an investigation into what lies beneath the surface, in the case the surface of a blandly handsome and promising Columbia student of literature in 1967 who disappears from, then reappears (nearly a half century later) in the life of a former classmate--then disappears again. Adam Walker (every name has a peculiar significance in this novel) is thus invisible on several levels. But as you might expect, when Auster peels away the layers of this onion, we're still not sure what is really there.

One thing that is buried beneath the surface of Walker's life is a bit of shockingly transgressive behavior. But like Martin in Edward Albee's 'The Goat, or, Who Is Sylvia?' Walker attracted my sympathy as much as my disapprobation, and made me think below the surface about what makes us classify certain behaviors as transgressive.

In 'The Goat,' it's buggering a horned mammal; in 'Invisible' it's brother boffing sister. As in 'The Goat,' the transgression is so out there and matter-of-fact in the same moment that it is comic. A component of humor, after all, is a certain amount of discomfort.

Likewise, I found an element of comedy in Auster's portrayal of Walker's Kurtz (with parallels to both Conrad's and Brando's), the peculiarly and significantly named Rudolf Born. Surely Auster intended that we chuckle at his parting view of Born--a decaying and overweight megalomaniac living in an isolated wilderness, muttering to himself as he is attended to by the natives. A deliciously magnificent villain, if ever there was one.

While 'Invisible' can be disquieting and affected, I don't mean to imply anything negative about its readability. In fact, it is written much more like a best seller than 'The New York Trilogy,' and, for Auster, is quite accessible. I devoured it quickly, and with gusto. But the state of cognitive dissonance it engendered has stuck with me, and kept me returning to its theme: what is invisible, what is beneath the surface.



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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Sooz i love your comparison of R. Born as Kurtz, and have to admit (rather sheepishly) that this had not occured to me. of course NOW, it seems blatantly obvious. what else can i say but, 'doh!'


Lars Guthrie Sooz wrote: "i love your comparison of R. Born as Kurtz, and have to admit (rather sheepishly) that this had not occured to me. of course NOW, it seems blatantly obvious. what else can i say but, 'doh!'"

The way these connections come to you is a mysterious process, but I don't believe it has anything to do with superior intellect. A lot of luck is involved, for sure. I'm honored you appreciated this one


Sooz true, what is visible to us is not always about intelligence. i think Mr. Auster would be the first to agree with you.

s0000 .... read anything fabulous lately that you'd like to recommend?


Lars Guthrie Sooz wrote: "read anything fabulous lately that you'd like to recommend?"

In August, I listened to Auster's 'Man in the Dark,' which he narrates in a commanding voice. I want to get to his new one, 'Sunset Park.'

Just finished Keith Richards' bio, 'Life,' which I was surprised to really like.


Ashley May I reprint your review, in your name, for my friends here on goodreads? I thought it was especially insightful.


Lars Guthrie Ashley wrote: "May I reprint your review, in your name, for my friends here on goodreads? I thought it was especially insightful."

Yes! Thanks for the compliment.


Ashley Thank you!


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