I’ve long been a fan of Paul Auster’s work – since I was blown away by the New York Trilogy which I read – too many years ago – at university.
For some unknown reason, I haven’t read any of his recent work so I was delighted to see the brilliant Annabel at Annabookbel introduce Paul Auster Reading Week, which gave me the impetus I needed to pick up Invisible, which has been languishing in the 746 for quite a few years!
Auster is a writer whose work features very recognisable tropes – a detached male narrator who bears a strong resemblance to Auster himself, meta narratives that play with the idea of voice and lots of intertextual gameplay. As such, I think his novels, while always interesting, can have varying degrees of success. Thankfully Invisible is an example of when he gets it spot on.
It is 1967 and Adam Walker is a literature student at Columbia – an aspiring poet, whose pressing concerns are money and the draft. His family life is complicated since the accidental drowning of his younger brother and he is incredibly close to his sister, Gwyn. At a party in Manhattan, he meets Rudolf Born, a French visiting professor who, along with his girlfriend Margot, takes a liking to Adam and proposes he finance a literary magazine that Adam can edit.
This bizarre windfall seems like the answer to all Adam’s problems, but Born is a contradictory character, prone to anger and unpredictability and when Adam engages in an affair with Margot, that anger has dire consequences. One evening, while walking home Born stabs a would-be mugger in front of Adam.
The novel turns on this one moment of violence, which sees Born flee to Paris to evade the authorities and Adam muse on his own culpability in the attack and its aftermath. Adam then decides to go to Paris to study, but at the back of his mind is an ill-conceived plan to exact revenge on his nemesis.
The story of Adam and Born, and subsequently of Adam and his sister Gwyn is told in four parts, all with different narrative structures and different narrative voices. Part One turns out to be a first draft of a novel Adam is writing in the first person. Part Two shifts to a second person voice, while Part Three is told by an old university friend of Adam’s who agrees to piece together his work now that Adam is dying of leukemia. The final part takes the form of a minor character’s diary and brings the story of Rudolf Born to an interesting and unexpected emotional conclusion.
Put something in the wrong place, and even though it is still there—quite possibly smack under your nose—it can vanish for the rest of time.
The differing narrative structures create that wonderful sense of unknowing and intrigue that is always present in Auster’s work. Is Adam a reliable narrator, or is this a work of fiction rather than memoir? Was Born guilty of murder, thus justifying Adam’s obsessive quest for moral justice? In addition, just how moral is Adam himself? Adam’s relationship with his sister Gwyn sits at the heart of the novel and raises questions of memory, fantasy and interpretation.
Rudolf Born is a fascinating character, who looms over the narrative and drives the plot on in a need to uncover the truth of what happened that night in New York. The plot is propelled by a growing sense of menace and by depicting the scaffolding of his storytelling structure – with all its layering and distancing – Auster reminds us that we can never know the truth of someone else’s life, no matter how closely involved in it we are.
Invisible is Auster at his best, featuring as it does deft characterisation, an intriguing plot and a clever narrative structure that remains both open-ended and perfectly satisfying.
Read on: Book
Number Read: 251
Number Remaining: 495
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!