The Sunday Salon – Book of the Day

It’s been a really hot day here today, stifling in fact, and far too humid for me to be comfortable. This is the sort of weather that makes me feel limp and exhausted even if I didn’t have toothache. So I’ve taken things easy today, dosed myself with painkillers and read Paul Auster’s new book Man In The Dark. My copy is an uncorrected proof that LibraryThing sent to me in the Early Reviewers Programme, so I can’t quote from it, which is a pity as it’s full of sentences/paragraphs I’d love to include in this post. It’s due out in hardback on 21 August and the back cover of my copy reveals that Paul Auster will be making a rare visit to the UK around that time.

It’s not long – 180 pages, just right for reading in a day and it’s sufficiently complex to take my mind off things. The “man in the dark” is seventy-two year old August Brill, recovering from a car accident, who can’t sleep. He is living with his daughter Miriam and granddaughter, Katya. To take his mind off the things he doesn’t want to think about – his wife’s death and the shocking murder of Titus, his granddaughter’s boyfriend – he makes up stories in his head. At this point I had to concentrate because there are so many stories and stories within stories. He imagines a parallel America, in which there is no war with Iraq. Instead there is civil war, several states having declared their independence and formed the Independent States of America. The main character in his story is Owen Brick, who reminiscent of the man in Travels in the Scriptorium, has to discover what is happening to him as the story progresses. His confusion deepens as he thinks someone is inside his head, stealing his life, not knowing what is real and what is imagined.

Katya is a film student, training to become a film editor and she and August spend their days watching films. A point of interest here for me as August considers that the difference between films and books is that watching films is a passive activity, whereas reading books makes you use your imagination and intelligence. He thinks Katya is using the films as a sort of self-medication to anesthetise herself against the realities of her life. As in The Book of Illusions there are descriptions of the films – more stories within the story.

As August struggles with insomnia he is joined by Katya in the dark hours and questioned by her he gradually reveals the story of his marriage and his despair at the death of his wife, Sonia. She in turn tells of her relationhship with Titus. This may sound a depressing, dark book – there is much in it about loss, despair, divorce, death and disaster  – but I didn’t find it so. There is also much about the everyday, ordinary stuff of life and love, even in a dark, brutal world. I enjoyed it.