I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Side Views of the Self

Side Views of the Self

Denis Sampson
Winter Journal, by Paul Auster, Faber & Faber, 240 pp, £9.99, ISBN: 978-0571283248 Here and Now: Letters 2008-2011, by Paul Auster and JM Coetzee, Faber & Faber, 256 pp, £12.99, 978-0571299270 Paul Auster’s acclaimed career as novelist in the past three decades has been punctuated by a considerable amount of non-fiction work. In fact, it appears that he might never have become a novelist had he not written the two-part memoir The Invention of Solitude. Prompted by the unexpected death of his father in January 1979, he wrote the extraordinarily moving “Portrait of an Invisible Man”, which became Part I, and this was followed by “The Book of Memory”, a reflection on the process of remembering and writing. In other words, after investigating the plain mystery of his father’s life, he realised that he, as son and investigator, was no less mysterious as the inventor of a style and a way of perceiving reality. In writing these two pieces, he discovered a confident narrative voice, the first part, written in the first person, the second, written in the third person, although the third person subject is referred to as A. He glosses this shifting of point of view in the first memoir and in City of Glass, the novel he wrote immediately after, as follows: “Rimbaud: ‘Je est un autre’.[I is an other] … What it came down to was creating a distance between myself and myself.” Reading Auster, one soon realises that the power of the writing originates in a mysterious zone in which distinctions of person in narrative are fluid, and boundaries between autobiography, biography and fiction are intentionally porous. The cover of the Faber edition of The Invention of Solitude uses a manipulated photograph, apparently of five Paul Austers sitting around a table; it shows frontal, side and back views of the same image, all looking at each other and, perhaps, conversing. A devotee of Beckett’s work from the beginning, Auster brings the world of the Trilogy into the mainstream, the obsessive-compulsive storyteller now negotiating a more recognisable world, using elements of traditional fictional genres and less austere narrative strategies. To take one example, the recent novel Invisibility appears to be a narrative that sets out to solve the enigma of Rudolf Born and his role in certain events that took place in Manhattan in 1967. Adam Walker, the first person narrator of Part I, recalls that time when he was a young, aspiring writer…

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