I’ve noticed that my blog’s becoming a bit of an ‘out and about in London’ thing, which wasn’t what I intended at all when I started. In an attempt to get back to my original aim, which was to write about what goes on in my world, I’ve decided to put together a little ABC of the things that make me tick. I’m categorising it under Alphabet Soup, as there’ll probably be a little of everything in there. I’m not really sure how it’s going to turn out, how long I’ll actually manage to stick at it, and, let’s be fair, how many people will actually read or be interested in it. Still, I thought it might be fun, it’ll pass some time for me, and at least I’ll get to write about a real variety of topics.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed from the title, A is for Auster. Paul Auster, to be precise. Lately I’ve been rereading my admittedly small collection of his works, and have been reminded yet again what an inspiration he is to me.
I first read The New York Trilogy when I was at university. It just seemed exquisite to me. At the time, I genuinely could not imagine reading anything more perfect. It was just…well, it was right, everything was in the right place. Since then, I’ve acquired Invisible, Book of Illusions, and Man In The Dark, which I have a real soft spot for. While they haven’t quite had the effect the New York Trilogy had on me, each one has served to awaken something in me. They make me want to think about things.
One of the things that I particularly love about Auster’s writing is his fearlessness. Often, as writers, I think that we hold ourselves back when dreaming up plots. We think, ‘well I can’t let this happen, because I’ll have to explain or justify it somehow’, or, ‘well, that would never happen in real life, that’s not believable’. Auster completely rejects that thought process, and really takes charge of his characters. He seems to be saying ‘I’m the author, I decide. If I want that to happen, it’ll happen. I don’t have to explain anything.’ I get a real kick out of that.
The thing is, despite the fantastical nature of the plots, Auster’s books are very believable. Auster novels seem real, but real in the same way that a dream is real. At the time, it all makes perfect sense. As a reader, I always feel like Alice jumping down the rabbit hole; one minute I’m making daisy chains on the lawn, and the next I’m making idle chit chat with a hookah smoking caterpillar, and I’ve very little idea how I came to be doing so. And the best part is that more often than not, the style of writing leaves you closing the back cover and wondering, despite knowing better, whether any of it was true.
There are certain recurring icons in his works which always make me feel as though I’m coming home when I open a new book. I think that the presence of these makes it very easy for me to step back into Auster World, and makes the insanity which usually follows that much more credible to me. For example, there has usually been some sort of tragedy before the story’s start, which often involves the death of a child or young adult. There are French girls popping up all over the place. Everyone is a writer. I particularly love his use of names as a link. For instance, his use of his own name, and the repetition of characters’ names in The New York Trilogy always makes me feel like I know what’s going on, even though in reality I have no idea.
I find Auster’s characters enchanting. The thing that endears Man in the Dark so much to me is that the character Owen Blake, whom we know to be imaginary from the moment he appears on the page, is no less important than any of the other ‘real’ people in the story. In fact, his story seems much more important than the stories of some of the actual characters. Owen Blake aside though, Auster’s protagonists are usually male loners who are stuck inside their own heads. From the outside, and as far as the rest of the world is concerned, they are respectable, quiet, dull. We however get to journey on these incredible flights of fancy with them. Auster’s characters always open me up to the possibility that anything could happen to any one of us, and that any one of us could do anything.
None of this would particularly matter to me, if Auster didn’t write with such astounding grace. The symmetry of his plots, the endless circles, the threads that he weaves between stories, I’ve never read anything like that before. He removes all of the boundaries, yet still retains complete control over his journey, direction and destination.
Now I could ramble on a bit about themes, genres, and so on, but this isn’t a school essay and I am no literature student. All I’ll say is that if you are the least bit interested, go and read one of his books. I’d recommend you start with The New York Trilogy, just because it really blew my mind. From there, I don’t think order matters. The best thing for me about Auster is that I still have so many of his books to read for the first time!