‘Oracle Night’ by Paul Auster

OracleNight

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.

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4 thoughts on “‘Oracle Night’ by Paul Auster

  1. I love Paul Auster. That said, I don’t think I can enlighten you. It’s not really about anything — kind of like real life. And there are more questions than answers, also rather like real life. This is typical of Auster’s work, and this is the appeal to me (my reaction to Oracle Night is here: http://magnificentoctopus.blogspot.com/2004/04/oracles-ghosts.html — no real insight though). If you’re looking for narrative resolution, Auster’s not for you. If you do try again, I highly recommend Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story — it’s also very short.

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  2. Isabella, thanks so much for your comment and providing the link. Funnily enough having written and posted this review more than 10 days ago I have been thinking about this book ever since! It’s locked in my brain somewhere and every now and then little bits of it seep out for me to mull over and digest. The more I think about it, the more I realise it *does* make sense. I’m beginning to think that I may have been too harsh in my initial reaction to the book, because it’s quite rare for a book to stay with me much longer than a couple of days. I’m now keen to read more Auster and have been eyeing his New York Trilogy on Amazon of late. Thanks for your recommendation, I might have to hunt me down a copy of Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story.

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  3. I agree with Isabel – Auster is more about pure storytelling, and it’s a characteristic of his books that they’re almost never tied up well – either because he doesn’t think stories should have neat endings, or just because he can’t do them! I tried to sum this up in my review of The Brooklyn Follies on my blog. A good place to start Auster in my opinion would be The Music of Chance or Moon Palace, both of which are quirkyish without being tiresome.

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  4. John, I’ve since read The New York Trilogy — and loved it. I still think about it two years after the fact! I’ve not yet read anything else by him though. Thanks for the advice on The Music of Chance and Moon Palace.

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