Fiction – paperback; Faber and Faber; 207 pages; 2005.
Up until now I have been a Paul Auster virgin. I have seen him interviewed several times on television, and appreciate that he is an interesting and accomplished and much heralded author. Whenever I hear his name I automatically think of New York, because he seems synonymous with that city.
Recently, when browsing a local bookstore, I picked up Oracle Night and was charmed by the coverline on the front of the book: “If you have never read Auster before . . . this is the place to start”. I weighed the pros and cons, and then thought, why not?
Essentially Oracle Night is about a novelist recovering from a near-fatal illness. He lives with his wife in New York, and while she’s at work, he spends his days touring the city on foot. One day he buys a notebook from a stationary shop run by a little Chinese man. He brings it home and finds that as soon as he opens it the writer’s block that has plagued him for months completely disappears. Suddenly his imagination comes alive and, in doing so, his own life takes on a surreal, larger than life edge that has him questioning the very essence of who he is, where he’s come from and where he’s going. He begins to scrutinise his relationship with his wife and his friend in ways he had never contemplated before.
Did I like this book? I am still in two minds. It throws normal novel writing conventions out the window. There are stories within stories within stories – and many of them don’t come to any satisfactory conclusion. There’s no real plot to speak of, although the strong characterisation and the hypnotic writing, holds it together. And, in many cases, it asks more questions than it answers. I am still wondering “what the hell was that all about?”
If anyone who has read this book can enlighten me, then please do. In the meantime, let me say it was a fascinating novel, but I wouldn’t rave about it and I have no immediate plans to rush to the bookstore for a feast of more Auster. Although I would never say never.