Paul Auster | Invisible

book_auster-invisible.jpgInvisible is a fine example of what Auster does best: create a fictional world which seems more real and is infinitely more delectable than the one we poor mortals live in.

 320 pages. New York: Holt, 2009. $25.00 (hardcover)

Paul Auster’s latest novel Invisible begins with an intellectual seduction which soon leads to the more carnal variety. The year is 1967 and the central character is a second-year Columbia student named Adam Walker who wants to be a poet but doesn’t know if he’s the real goods or just a poseur with aspirations. Adam meets the charismatic visiting professor Rudolf Born and his enigmatic girlfriend Margot (dressed entirely in black, of course) at a party, where they chat about Dante and Castro (Born smokes a Cuban cigar and makes a point of telling Adam that he obtains them through a connection in the French embassy), but at the end of the evening go their separate ways and Adam expects nothing more from the experience.

Then a few days later he spots Born in a student bar, smoking a Cuban and reading Der Spiegel. They have a chat and it turns out that Margot is concerned about Adam’s future and also that Born recently came into a small inheritance and has been thinking about founding a literary magazine. Before you know it, Adam is offered the Holy Grail of the literary aspirant, a no-compete offer to head Born’s new literary venture. Even Adam realizes that this turn of events makes no earthly sense and that such favors are not bestowed for free, but he’s flattered enough to accept the opportunity to play with the big kids.

The premise sounds straightforward enough, but this is an Auster novel so you can be assured that there are puzzles within puzzles. For one thing, Auster was an undergraduate at Columbia in 1967 while the novel’s present time of 2007 is more or less when Auster would have been writing it. And a protagonist named Adam? That’s enough to set off anyone’s allegorical radar. Rudolf Born’s name is no accident either: It alludes to the Provençal troubadour Bertran de Born who is portrayed in Dante’s Inferno carrying his own severed head by the hair (his sin was schism). Finally, the novel has multiple narrators and the reliability of any of them is open to question, particularly since their affect is so often out of sync with the events they describe.

I don’t want to spoil Invisible’s many twists and turns but it’s not giving anything away to say that in the novel’s present-time Adam is dying of cancer and writing his memoirs in which Born and Margot play a principle role. He asks a colleague to read and comment on his draft, and before you know it the novel has become a discourse on truth, memory and self-presentation. But it’s a very enjoyable discourse and you, dear reader, will be drawn into a labyrinth where you’ll have have to actively take part in the process of constructing some version of reality in order to find your way back out again.

I take back whatever I previously said about it being time for Auster to pack it in. I still think his 2008 novel A Man in the Dark is lazy and formulaic (http://www.playbackstl.com/content/view/8854/159/), but Invisible is a fine example of what Auster does best: create a fictional world which seems more real and is infinitely more delectable than the one we poor mortals live in. If you like Auster’s approach to fiction, and if you’re reading this, you probably already know whether you do or not; in that case, Invisible is definitely worth checking out. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

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