Auster’s weird world rolls on

maninthedarkPaul Auster is famous for combining strong narrative with imaginative metafiction. His novels turn themselves inside out with all manner of postmodern conceits – doubled protagonists, books within books, numerous Hitchcock-style author cameos – and yet the pulse and pace of the storytelling holds your attention the whole way.

This one, Man in the Dark, seems much the same at first. An ageing critic kills his insomniac nights by writing a story in his head, a story of an alternate America somewhere along the highways in hiding. In August Brill’s parallel universe the 2000 election of George W Bush has led to a disastrous civil war along North/South lines. It can only be stopped by the assassination of Brill himself, who is writing the story and therefore causing the war to happen.

Like many contemporary novelists, Auster is someone who has always eschewed politics until he was dragged in by sheer horror by the black hole of the Bush presidency. Auster still isn’t a political writer, and the reader gradually realises this as the dystopia plot gives way to more immediate concerns – love and loss. The parallel universe story is wrapped up with hasty finality and Brill begins to reminisce, in long, tender, powerful paragraphs, about his turbulent love life, the generational struggles of his family and the murder of his granddaughter’s fiancee.

Most of Auster’s books are written in a dreamlike, fairytale manner, but Man in the Dark has solidity. Taking place over one night spent awake, it has the solidity of sleeplessness – the mysterious amplified sounds, the wash of water on the tongue, the phlegm that collects in the back of the smoker’s throat. It’s this physical quality that makes Man in the Dark Auster’s best book yet – although, at just 180 pages, it may not last till dawn.

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One Response to “Auster’s weird world rolls on”

  1. Michael Says:

    Thanks for the nice review. I’m an Auster fan, and happened to be at Powell’s in Portland when he was there doing a reading. It was completely random – I was travelling, and by the time I got up there, the reading was done, and I was the last one to get a book signed. I just pulled it off my shelf to take a look.

    Anyway, I was looking online for the quote from the book “The weird world rolls on,” and who it should properly be attributed to. A female poet, but it she real or is she one of Auster’s characters. You’re right that it is a short book, and probably won’t last until dawn if I get started on it directly.

    Thanks for the asynchronous message in a bottle, and the memories.

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