I read Invisible by Paul Auster in January and wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I feel may understand it more if I reread it, but I have little inclination to do so.
The story opens in New York City in 1967 when student Adam Walker meets a Swiss professor, Rudolf Born and his girlfriend Margot. Born is a visiting lecturer at Columbia University, where Adam is studying literature. He is drawn into their offbeat world, then caught in a triangle that soon descends into violence that shocks and disturbs Adam.
There are three different narrators and the story moves both in time and place, between 1967 and 2007, in New York, Paris and the Caribbean. It also moves between writing in the first person to the second and third person. Like other Auster books, it is multilayered containing stories within stories, which I always enjoy.
From the book jacket:
It is a book of youthful rage, unbridled sexual hunger and a relentless quest for justice. With uncompromising insight, Auster takes us into the shadowy borderland between truth and memory, between authorship and identity, to produce a work of unforgettable power that confirms his reputation as ‘one of America’s most spectacularly inventive writers’.
It’s about writers and writing, how they deal with expressing themselves, and overcoming their writer’s block. One of the narrators comments on a problem he had when writing a memoir:
By writing about myself in the first person, I had smothered myself and made myself invisible, had made it impossible for me to find the thing I was looking for. I needed to separate myself from myself, to step back and carve out some space between myself and my subject (which was myself) and therefore I returned to the beginning of Part Two and began writing it in the third person. I became He, and the distance created by that shift allowed me to finish the book. (page 89)
It started well, but as I read on it became dreary and cringe-making. But strangely I found it compelling reading and had to read on to the end. After the first part, it became harder to distiguish who was narrating. None of the characters are very likeable, some are downright unlikeable (Born for example) and the book slips between truth and fantasy so you don’t know whether to believe anything the narrators say. It’s a puzzle and a tiresome one. Overall I didn’t like it. If I hadn’t read any of Auster’s books before I wouldn’t bother reading one again after this one.