‘Invisible’ by Paul Auster

Invisible

Fiction – paperback; Faber and Faber; 320 pages; 2009. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

I think I may have developed a wee bit of a literary crush on Paul Auster, although our relationship took a little while to develop. Indeed, I was ready to dump him before it even began, because our first meeting in which I read Oracle Night, back in 2005, was not a particularly pleasant one: I simply didn’t get what he was all about. But then I gave him a second chance and read the New York Trilogy and suddenly it all began to make sense. Auster is a novelist who plays with the format, concentrates on recurring themes (for example, coincidence, writing and story-telling, truth and memory) and often makes himself part of the action.

This novel, his 16th, is one of his more accessible, and would make the perfect introduction to anyone who has yet to try Auster for themselves.

It’s told in four interlocking parts. The first introduces us to Adam Walker, a 20-year-old poet and literature student at Columbia University, who meets Frenchman Rudolf Born, a visiting professor, and his seductive young girlfriend, Margot, at a party. The chance introduction is to have a long-lasting impact on Adam’s life. Initially it all seems rather positive, because Born is a rich man and he’s keen to employ Adam as the editor of a new literary magazine he wants to launch. But then it all goes terribly wrong, for reasons I won’t divulge, and Adam finds himself wishing he’d never met Born, who comes across as quite a creepy, violent, narcissist capable of the most hideous crime.

The second part is told from James (Jim) Freeman’s perspective. He once attended classes at Columbia with Adam, although they were never close, and went on to become a very successful writer. The pair fell out of touch, but then 38 years later, Jim receives a part-written manuscript from Adam and asks for his honest opinion of it. The manuscript, entitled Summer, is included, and forms the bulk of this part of Invisible. It tells the story of what happened to Adam after his falling out with Born in the spring of 1967, and includes an eye-opening, somewhat racy, account of Adam’s incestuous relationship with his sister.

The third part is again told from Jim’s perspective, with the second part of Adam’s manuscript, entitled Fall, included. This details Adam’s move to Paris and his half-cooked ploy to extract revenge on Rudolph Born on home turf. It also recounts his friendship with Born’s step-daughter.

The fourth and final part has Jim meet Adam’s sister, Gwyn, a 61-year-old beauty, to discuss whether the manuscript should ever be published given it has quite damaging revelations about her in the text. Born’s step-daughter also has her chance to tell her side of the story.

As you can tell, there’s quite a lot of jumping around of perspectives, although it’s all told in the first person. It’s only Adam’s manuscript that switches around. But this is fairly typical Aster fare, because he has a penchant for including a book within a book, so what you end up reading is a multi-layered narrative. It’s a bit like sitting in front of a mirror with a mirror behind you reflecting a never-ending set of images of a person looking in the mirror looking at a person looking in a mirror and so on.

There’s no denying I loved this book. I raced through it in just a matter of days and found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it. There’s something about Auster’s work that unsettles the unconscious mind, so that certain scenes and characters will pop into your head unannounced. I have only read a very small selection of his extensive back catalogue but Invisible is one of the better ones I’ve had the joy of reading. Definitely recommended, regardless of whether you’re an Auster virgin or not.

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17 thoughts on “‘Invisible’ by Paul Auster

  1. Sounds great. I’ve asked for this on my Christmas wishlist, maybe Father Christmas will be kind. 🙂 I love Paul Auster, but I don’t love all of his books. New York Trilogy confused me, but maybe it was my mindset at the time, and the Brooklyn Follies were kind of dull. But Mr. Vertigo was fabulous and In The Country of Last Things was amazing, as was Man in the Dark. I’ve got The Music of Chance sitting on my shelf and I am looking forward to digging into that one. One day, I’ll get through all of his backcatalogue.

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  2. I also found New York Trilogy to be confusing, and when I first read it I failed to see its greatness. However, when re-reading it last year I loved it, so maybe you should wait a couple of years and give it a second chance?
    Mr Vertigo is indeed a very good read.
    My favorite Auster works are: Leviathan and Moon Palace.
    Haven’t read his latest stuff at all, but will look for Invisible at the library.

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  3. I think you’d appreciate this one, litlove. Auster has a bit of a Gallic thing going and with your background in French writing you’re sure to enjoy it.

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  4. The New York Trilogy is wonderful but it is very, very weird… I’d be more inclined to start with Invisible because it will give you a small taste of his style, which is slightly surreal but toned down in this particular novel.

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  5. Wow, you’ve read a stack more than me. New York Trilogy *is* confusing but I think that’s the whole point. I’m sure you probably need to read it at least twice, if not three times, to get the whole gist of it.

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  6. Auster has written several of my all time favorite books, The Book of Illusions, In The Country of Last Things. He’s also written several that I was so bored with I never finished them.
    So, I always try his new stuff, just in case.
    I’ll be adding this one to my TBR list.

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  7. So, in your opinion he’s a bit of a hit or miss author, right? I don’t think I’ve read enough of his work to come to that conclusion… yet. I must get around to reading In The Country of Lost Things because I have only ever heard wonderful things about it.

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  8. Auster is my literary hero. I loved ‘Invisible’ and agree it is a good place to start. I definitely got a lot more out of the ‘New York Trilogy’ on re-reading – I didn’t hit that wall that many find by the end of the second part, and also having read much more of him you can understand many of his tricks and recurring motifs.

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  9. I enjoyed this book very much myself. I’ve liked his books that I’ve read, though only a few so far; The New York Trilogy and The Music of Chance are my favourites. Great review and comments about this very interesting author. I enjoy reading his wife Siri Hustveld too.

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  10. I can’t wait to read this. I love Auster’s earlier books and I felt he lost some of that Auster magic in that last few years. This sounds good though. It might be time to pick up Auster again.

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  11. Yes, Siri Hustvedt (not “-veld”) is a great author as well.
    “Music of Chance” was made into a half-decent film, ok, but not great.
    Paul himself has dabbled in films, “Smoke” (1995) is probably the best example.

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  12. I definitely got a lot more out of the ‘New York Trilogy’ on re-reading – I didn’t hit that wall that many find by the end of the second part, and also having read much more of him you can understand many of his tricks and recurring motifs.

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