Reviews



The New York Times' W.S. Merwin did a piece on Auster's memoir, The Invention of Solitude. Although Merwin does a great job describing the book, and makes some very accurate insights about it, I disagree with part of his opinion of it. Merwin says,
"This part of "The Invention of Solitude" is called "The Book of Memory"' while it contains some ambitious and illuminating passages, it is marred, more than the fieriest part, by recurrent pointless mannerisms apparently suggested by contemporary French 'experimental' writing - among them a tendency toward ponderous and sententious notation". (Merwin)
I found Auster's "experimental" and "ponderous" to be very appealing. The title of the book was, for me, a hint at the contemplative nature of this book and is exactly why I was drawn to the book in the first place. The content of the book did not fail to meet my expectations. As I read the book, I continuously found his thoughtful sentences compelling.
Throughout the review, Merwin is talking about how Auster's subject in the book is very elusive and abstract and how difficult a time Auster had writing it. I think that Auster succeeded at putting into words the abstract concepts of a person's inner world, but Merwin thinks Auster failed to do so and that he blighted his work with the mentioning of the struggle to write this story.  "The subject, approached directly, eludes the pursuer. Evanescent to begin with, it dissolves. Mr. Auster therefore turns from his subject to an examination of the attempt to write about it, self-consciously tracing a self consciousness that occasionally affects the style and form of his account without benefiting them." (Merwin) While I agree that Auster's bringing up the topic of his writing of the book within the book did stick out like a sore thumb to me I was glad at this refreshingly honest writing. I found it fascinating and encouraging to hear of another writer's struggle to put the material in his head into actual words and sentences. I also thought that the elusive subject was not evanescent but damn close to it. I feel that Auster nailed the subject down, Merwin feels he let it dissipate.
Merwin makes a great point about writing in general, "an effort to get the 'material', as he suddenly conceived of it, into language. The notion that there is in fact a relatively solid body of material that exists on its own and can really be put into words is one of the abiding and essential delusions of writers" although I don't agree with his application of it to Paul Auster's memoir. He is critical of the fact that Auster's work seems to have come out of "guiding impulse", he doesn't like the finished work and blames Auster's emotional desperation to write down his father's story before it was lost for the haphazard writing style Merwin sees in The Invention of Solitude. I think it is a great insight into writing that Merwin makes above. He is saying that writer's have need to believe in the existence of their story, so that they can sit down, grab at it and put it on paper. If they didn't believe that the material was already there, waiting to be written down, they wouldn't be writers. The funny thing is that Merwin calls this a delusion, yet an essential one. I think this is very true and I think that's why I respect Auster's valiant attempt to write this abstract of a story down. I like how unique his writing style was.
I do agree with Merwin when he says that "The Invention of Solitude has some of the virtues and rawness of letters written under stress". I definitely sense that about this book and while I realize Merwin criticizes this about Auster, I actually like that about the book.

Footnote: Beware of the major spoiler in Merwin’s article. I left the spoiler out of my book report to preserve my reader’s experience of surprise when she reads the book herself.

In Hadley Freeman's article for The Guardian, entitled "American Dreams", she interviews Paul Auster creating a very interesting piece on the author.
Auster, seems to still value the theme of fatherhood very much. He just completed an unusual project for him, "Twenty Days with Julian and Little Bunny, by Papa". It is the preface to a book of Nathaniel Hawthorne's diary about his toddler son.
In the interview, Hadley refers to "narrative experimentation" in Auster's work and noted that his mood dropped immediately. Auster does not like his work being described as "experimental". He strongly said to Hadley, "I never experiment with anything in my books. Experimentation means you don't know what you're doing." Interesting to hear Auster himself deflate the critique that W.S. Merwin gave him in his Auster article for the New York Times.
Probably the most interesting thing about Hadley's article on Auster was when Auster revealed to her,  "…reading like a demon. Really, I think every idea I have came to me in those years. I don't think I've had a new idea since I was 20." This blows this readers mind. In 30 plus years Auster has been working on the same ideas he came up with as a teen up to the age 20? Wow. Shocking.
Another juicy tidbit from the article came from a friend of Auster's who said "The themes in Paul's books haven't changed since when I first met him more than 20 years ago: he's still looking at the nature of fate' he's still looking at how events impact on a person' he's still looking at the effect of chance." Auster's themes are right up my alley and I intend to read more of his work because of that.
Hadley reveals that Auster's father died before seeing his son "achieve critical success", which is an interesting note, considering The Invention of Solitude is mostly about his father. I'm sure it must pain Auster that his father missed out on seeing him succeed, but I'd imagine, from what Auster has written about his father, that his dad really would not have given a damn anyways. Auster, I'm sure, knows this.
Hadley makes a very compelling thought about how Auster refers to himself in the third person during Part 2 of The Invention of Solitude. She points out that Auster "always writes in the first person both in fiction and non-fiction" so it is a shock when in his memoir about himself he switches to the third person. Unlike W.S. Merwin's article, which bashes Auster for the choice to write about himself in the third person, Hadley pin points the good reasoning Auster had for doing it. "The distance created by slipping from first to third person reads like a quiet sigh of denial and loneliness, of someone who, he writes, was 'living to the side of himself'."
This makes perfect sense to me. The content of Part 2- The Book of Memory is definitely depressing and I can understand how calling himself "A" and referring to himself in the third person would've made it easier to write about such a mentally difficult time in his life. I appreciate his efforts very much. Well done writing that comes from inside of a depressed state is valuable indeed. As his editor in France also points out: "'His novels explore the mysteries of the mind in such a way that their process can be shared from the inside by the reader".
I definitely agree with Hadley's article on Auster, it was fascinating and she seems to really understand Paul Auster.