61 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel in which the story and how it is told are fascinatingly inseparable
Paul Auster may have a reputation as a "writer's writer" --- one whose technical expertise and mastery of his craft is viewed with alternating envy, inspiration and despair by less skilled writers. But he also knows how to tell a darn good story as he has demonstrated time and again in novels such as CITY OF GLASS, ORACLE NIGHT and MAN IN THE DARK. In his 15th work of...
Published on November 2, 2009 by Bookreporter
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars To know wisdom, madness and folly
I love The New York Trilogy and keep reading Paul Auster because of that, even though no other work of his reaches that level for me. In the same way, I read all of Heller after Catch 22 and much of Mailer after Naked and the Dead. In those cases as well, I was disappointed more often than not. It may be that other works of those authors suffered by comparison to their...
Published on October 30, 2009 by The Ginger Man
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61 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel in which the story and how it is told are fascinatingly inseparable,
In many ways, what is important in INVISIBLE is not so much the story itself but how it is told. The novel is divided into four parts with three different narrators, who write in three different voices (the first, second and third person points of view). The issue of narrative voice --- how and why writers choose to tell a story in that particular voice --- is at the heart of the novel: "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..." So maybe the claims of Auster being a writer's writer is true after all, but he is also one who can get readers thinking about how the way stories are told influences the way we read them.
The central figure of the novel --- and the primary narrator of the first two sections --- is Adam Walker, an aspiring poet who is in his second year at Columbia University in 1967, the year in which the story opens and from which everything else sprouts. A chance encounter at a party draws Walker in to the gravitational orbit of beguiling Frenchman Rudolf Born and his alluring companion, Margot. Born promises Walker certain things --- certain desirable things that shake Walker out of his undergraduate torpor and show him a different way of living. Ultimately, however, a series of betrayals by Walker, by Margot, and, most notably, by Born changes the stakes for Walker and alters the course of his life.
What happens in the subsequent sections is both difficult to describe and largely irrelevant to this review; suffice it to say that the events force Walker to solicit the help of Jim, a former classmate of his at Columbia. Jim's role is to help Walker tell the story of what happened after that pivotal spring, of how his ongoing obsession, revulsion and fascination with Born shaped everything that happened after. And as good stories tend to do, Walker's manages to draw Jim into his tale, and, as events unfold, both Jim and, eventually, the reader ask the question: "What is truth? What is story? What exactly is this collection of words that I hold in my hand?"
At times, reading INVISIBLE can feel like riding in a fast-moving taxi steered by an eminently capable driver who nonetheless tends to take corners so fast that passengers don't feel like they've caught up until blocks later. Nevertheless, the passengers are thrilled and grateful that they've signed up for the wild ride. Auster's constantly shifting parameters demand a lot from readers, but they also provide both rigorous intellectual stimulation and the joy of a well-told story. INVISIBLE is a page-turner; readers keep reading because they want to know not only what's going to happen but also how the author is going to get us there.
Ultimately, that is one of the biggest themes of the novel: how the telling of stories --- how they're told, to whom they're told, when they're told --- has the power to alter circumstances far outside their original realm. Sure, Auster's postmodern sensibilities are still very much on display here (as an inside joke to long-time readers, he mentions that some unnamed authors insert characters with their own names into their fiction), but INVISIBLE is a forceful demonstration that the mature Auster can marry his "writerliness" with surprising, compelling narrative. The result is a novel in which the story and how it is told are fascinatingly inseparable.
--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars To know wisdom, madness and folly,
Considering all of this, while reading Invisible, I tried to put aside the expectations I have that are a product of my familiarity with The New York Trilogy. As a result, I think that I enjoyed it more than many recent offerings by Auster. Invisible seems, on the surface, to be a straightforward story about Adam Walker's need to make up for what he perceives to have been an act of personal cowardice early in his life. But it is also an arresting analysis of the way in which people manipulate truth to create a personal narrative to meet emotional needs. In the end, the reader must decide which character's memories are truer, which are fashioned to convince the self and which are lies to deceive others. The title of the book and the final paragraphs require some working out by the reader as well.
In describing himself, main character Adam Walker quotes Ecclesiastes: "And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly." It seems an unequal trade. His achievement of wisdom is suspect; his loss of passion is not. As usual, Auster's world can be bleak, ambivalent, unjust and more familiar than the reader would like to admit.
This is a difficult book to review without providing plot information that could make it less enjoyable. Among its strengths is consistent tension in the narrative which creates continuing curiosity and interest for the reader. Watching the characters and events unroll is one of the joys of Invisible.
These are strange people Auster is writing about here. But part of the author's art is to convince us, by the time we finish, that his characters may be less extraordinary than we first assume. Their actions and the mechanisms they use to interpret reality become more familiar and less aberrant as the book unfolds, depending of course on what the reader decides actually happened.
I would love to give this a three and a half star rating but slid back to three since that is not an option. It is definitely worth reading, however, and gives me another reason to check in with Paul Auster each time he releases a new volume.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an instance of the fingerpost,
In the decades since, those twists and turns have become Auster's signature, dutifully interpolated into novel after novel, they turned familiar, then generic, and ultimately became his shtick. Meanwhile, he became too self-conscious of his Americanness (perhaps by reading flattering European reviews) and that aspect of his oeuvre turned into kitsch. The nadir was "Timbuktu", a charmless "Marley and Me" as written by a Vassar freshman. The follow-ups were not much of an improvement, though I can't vouch for the last two: I couldn't read them.
The Kirkus review above, heralding a return to form, compelled me to read "Invisible." I'm glad I did, though I wasn't sure at first. The opening chapter (of four) I found thin, labored and plodding. The second was compelling, but sensationalist: it felt like Auster was pushing buttons to keep my attention. But things did pick up. It became possible that instead of merely toying with plot, Auster was building an elaborate structure.
The magic happened in chapter three. The resurrection promised at the end of chapter two actually happened (it's not supernatural, but it's real: pay attention, or you might miss it like the protagonist,) but more than that, all the characters and the situation came to vivid, menacing life, perhaps in part because the chapter takes place in Paris. (I'm not entirely sure, but this may be the first of Auster's fictions that is set there.)
The fourth chapter is a miracle.
Auster plays many games in this novel--origami timelines, multiple narrators, first, second AND third person narrations, at least two sets of twins or dopplegangers, etc.--all to a single end: that the book's true subject not be revealed until the final paragraph. And when it is revealed, invisible, inevitable, but after all, the only thing this book could, should possibly be about, it's not just the sound of one hand clapping, but that hand slapping you across the face.
"The New York Trilogy" was Auster's personal masterpiece. This book is his American masterpiece. It combines literary intricacy with moral weight, with the former fully in the service of the latter.
You have to read it, especially if like me, you've given up on him.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Man, do I not get it.,
Walker is supposed to be haunted by the death of the mugger who threatened his own life? Really? Perhaps if Auster had given some salient detail about the mugger's life that the protagonist (and reader) could identify with, Walker's absurd feelings would be more credible. But Walker's unbelievable sympathy for his mugger isn't even balanced by Walker's concern for his own safety. And the execution of the scene is complete cliche. A guy with a knife (who realistically is at a serious disadvantage) tells the guy with a gun (and a bead on him), "Step away, pal. I'm warning you." (Not verbatim, but just about that cheesy.)
Then there's the whole incest tale. Walker purports to have screwed his sister six-ways-to-Sunday over the course of a summer. Shocking news, right? Forty years later, when this same sister is confronted with the information, what's her reaction? Essentially, "Ah . . . no, that didn't happen." WTF! Whether the sister is lying or telling the truth, under no circumstances is some blase, flat, simple denial credible. At no time is there any shock or discomfort from the characters over Walker's story, and I find that difficult to believe.
I just don't see what about the details arranged in this book merits the effort to read (let alone write) over 300 pages.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful. A Masterpiece.,
The book features the character Adam Walker, a student in 1967, and the satellite of characters that surround him and the events that play out (or don't): Rudolf Born, Margot Jouffroy, Helene and Cecile Juin, friend from college James Freeman, sister Gwyn, lost (invisible) brother Andy, Cedric Williams, and others. I mention the names because if you're reading this review after you've read the book, just hearing and reading the names will conjure up memories and distinct emotions, as I'm sure Auster wants. The reverberations are powerful.
True to Auster craft, he has spent a good bit of time weaving a tight thread - and then, suddenly, we find that he begins to unravel it, as we can only watch and wonder. The mind is amused and confused by these tricks! Just beautiful. What is truth? What is novelization? You leave this book asking yourself questions, wishing heartily that you could sit with other readers and/or especially the author, and ask him. For instance, the meaning, the symbolism of the hammer and chisels at the end. What could this mean? His stories within stories (common tactics for Auster) amaze and intrigue. Paul Auster, if you're reading this - can we meet over lunch sometime and talk about these things???
Just a few small things to note: I'll BET Dewey Decimal isn't the classification system used in the Butler Library at Columbia! At least not in 1967. (I'll confess - I'm a librarian, and will research this.) But - it's a novel. So creative license is allowed, and it doesn't matter what classification scheme is used there. The difficulty of containing hundreds or millions of volumes in lowly Dewey defies logic, but it was fun to read about anyway.
Secondly, the book, particularly the island Quillia and the character of Rudolf Born, had a very "Heart of Darkness" feel. Rich, and delicious, and dark, and disturbing - *meant* to disturb. What a curious and interesting way to end the book - the maze winding into a place from which we just barely escape.
As mentioned, I've read quite a bit of Auster and have been *so* hooked. While I loved "Brooklyn Follies" for its contemporary themes and humor, some of the other more recent Auster books ("Oracle Night," particularly) failed for me. I had trouble getting into "Night at the Scriptorium" also. After such postmodern classics as "The Book of Illusions," "In the Country of Last Things," and another favorite, "Moon Palace," I thought he lost it. His ability to dissect the past (especially the personal past) and our varied psychological understandings of it, while injecting characters with colorful and interesting traits and manners, has proven not to be lost after all. This book affirms it.
This might be your first Auster book. If so, it won't and shouldn't be your last. My first was "The Book of Illusions" and I journeyed on both sides of that book, finding the many delights of his fiction and autobiography (and sometimes, one cannot tell the difference between the two!). I highly recommend this book if you're someone who enjoys getting your brain into a twist, trying to find the end of a most perplexing gordian knot, trying your hand at a disentanglement puzzle comprised of the human word delivered at its finest from a master. He has earned every one of those five stars. I'll be thinking about this one for a while, but I can't wait to see what he does next.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best since "Invention of Solitude" by far...,
There is a flow of narrative that had little duplicity in it, though of course Auster being Auster, he switches narrators and brings the story through other characters since the main character is dying, then dead.
I didn't find one single Part 1,2,3,4 in the least boring and in fact for me, the plot held together as few of Auster's books do. I cannot quite get James Wood's parody of a review out of my mind. Why is this? Because his review of Auster's work in The New Yorker starts with "Invisible" which now strikes me as quite unfair. To the other novels, maybe this negativity can apply but not here.
My absolute favorite of Auster's book is the utterly beautiful "Invention of Solitude" which I've read many times. "Invisble is not up there with his non-fiction, but it is all plausible to me and I do not regret having spent 12 hours reading it. Never boring. Not cliched. A book Auster should rightly be proud of composing. Five stars.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memoirs & Memories, The Truth & Not The Truth,
This review is from: Invisible (Audio CD)Writing: Strong and Clear
Plot: Easy to follow; all about relationships
Suspense Factor: Strong
Entertainment Value: Compelling
"Invisible" is a novel about memoirs and memories. There are so many characters trying to find out the "truth" about events that after awhile you almost forget you're reading fiction. The novel unfolds so beautifully in Auster's hands that it goes down easily, like comfort food. I have to borrow a line from the New York Times review: the writing is so good there's an "illusion of effortlessness that comes only with fierce discipline."
I listened to this book on audio CD and Auster is the narrator. Auster's writing here is sharp, immensely clear and seductive. His delivery on the CD? Captivating from the first sentence. His delivery is grounded, dry and sober, the voice of a keen-eyed narrator looking back over the years.
One quick cautionary note: if the thought of a brother and sister falling in love and having a long-lasting physical relationship is something that would make it difficult for you to read a novel, "Invisible" may not be for you. Many of the scenes would be rated R (at least) in the movies, but they are tantalizing, not graphic.
The book is neatly structured. It's divided into four parts, using three narrators and four different narrative perspectives . (Sound hard to follow? It's not.) The characters in "Invisible," ironically, are extremely well drawn. They will stay with you. You will care about all four, even the irascible and erratic Rudolf Born. If you are a guy (as am I) you will have no problem connecting with the intriguing Margot or the beguiling Cecile.
If you want to read about the plot ahead of time, that should be easy to find. I'd recommend against it. Don't even read the book jacket.
Suffice it to say that "Invisible" is about the parts of a human being you can't see, the emotions and yearnings that drive decisions and actions. It's about controlling others, it's about accepting others. It's about fiction and it's about people's real memories and how those memories drive personality. It's about yearning and it's about managing with what you've got. It's about telling the truth and it's about finding ways to bend the truth, to satisfy yourself and justify your actions. It's a terrific story on its own, it's also about what makes other works terrific stories. There are many references to other works of literature and poets and poems but you can read this without feeling like you're not in the inner circle of an English department at some elite liberal arts college.
From New York to Paris to a small tropical island, "Invisible" is enjoyable from start to finish.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Auster's Inertia,
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Of Invisible itself, a lot is made of the multiple narrators. Mutliple narrators? Really. Hmm, they all have the same voice ... how are they different. Oh, yeah, he uses first, second and third person for one of them. But, still, Adam, Jim and Cecile all have the same voice, the same tone. And of course the incest gets a lot of attention. Is it real or a fantasy? It's all fiction, so what does it matter? Ultimately, truth is what's invisible. Is there such a thing as a reliable narrator? Again, not a new literaty concept. Regardless, read the book, make up your own mind. This is only one man's opinion.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Many Voices, One Mind,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)THE BOOK OF ILLUSIONS for instance, my personal favorite among his works, is about an old-time film-maker. Like Michael Chabon (author of THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY), Auster has a hankering for the good old yarns they don't tell any more: adventure stories more startling, romances more compelling, or mysteries more sinister than are now the fashion in this more nuanced age. Not that either author is devoid of nuance; Chabon burrows beneath his stories to reveal human depth; Auster erects a scaffolding around them to study the nature of story-telling itself, and what it reveals of our secret natures. Auster is the more abstract author, but that doesn't stop him from being hugely enjoyable. This latest novel gripped me from the very beginning and didn't let go until almost the end.
The book is in four parts; the first three of these take place in 1967; the fourth is an addendum from forty years later. Each of the 1967 sections is told in a different voice, using the first, second, and third person respectively. So the opening is the first-person narrative of Adam Walker, a junior English major at Columbia and would-be poet. He meets a visiting professor from France, Rudolf Born, who offers to invest some family money in a literary magazine that Adam would edit. It seems a young writer's dream come true, but it doesn't feel entirely real and there are disturbing undertones. Gradually Adam gives in to a seduction that is simultaneously intellectual and erotic, until the situation blows up in an encounter which makes him see Born in a different light.
The second part continues Adam's story with Born temporarily out of the picture. Auster is brilliant at capturing both the hot, lazy atmosphere of New York in summer and the loose-end feeling of a university student during the long vacation. The erotic element now takes center stage, and might well shock some readers by its explicitness and subject matter, yet Auster also seduces the reader with a romantic yearning that goes beyond the physical. The third part follows Adam to Paris in the fall, the Rive Gauche of the sixties being captured as beautifully as Morningside Heights had been. There Adam meets a brilliant young woman whose mother is about to marry Born; it is a touching and almost innocent relationship, but the elements of eroticism and menace from earlier in the book intervene here too. The final part ties up several of the loose ends, but also questions the veracity of others. In the end, one is left wondering whether any of this supposedly factual narrative is true.
Hang on -- isn't it absurd to question levels of truth in a work of fiction? Only if you forget that even fiction reflects someone's truth, that of the author. The invisible presence of the title here is the author himself, hidden behind pseudonyms and layers of narrative. Walker sends part 1 of his story to an old college friend, now a famous novelist, who assembles Adam's notes for publication much as in the third novella in THE NEW YORK TRILOGY. Advising Walker to shift to the second person, he cites his own experience: "By writing about myself in the first person, I had smothered myself and made myself invisible... I needed to separate myself from myself, to step back and carve out some space...." Auster takes his own advice. Adam Walker is another example of Auster's continuing attempt throughout his novels to write about himself in other persons, other voices. Of course some of his story is "untrue," because any writer makes things up, just as any writer calls upon true experience. The whole book reads as a demonstration of how fiction is written, by starting with the known and imagining into the unknown.
There is, admittedly, a strongly narcissistic quality to the book, which reaches its height in Adam's obsession with his sister. Why should we care about a self-absorbed author if he merely rearranges the lily pads on his reflecting pool? And yes, there are Auster novels where the self-reflexive technique grows tedious. But not this one. Here, Auster lays aside his adult concerns and focuses with astonishing perception on those few years of young manhood where narcissism is everything. What we see of the adult relationships in the book (with the single exception of Born's) seem contented and stable; the young Adam, by contrast, lives in a world of wish-fulfillment, whether granted or frustrated, as though he were creating his own life in order to live in it.
In Adam's first conversation with Born, for instance, it can be hard to tell between the professor and the pupil; quotation marks and speech prefixes are meaningless if both voices are projections of the same mind. The three different women with whom Adam gets involved -- the virgin, the whore, and the virtual twin -- seem like the fantasy objects of late teen libido. Almost fifty years ago now, but I recognize the futility still -- and the thrill of that brave new world. Adam's student Paris in the sixties is my own student Paris. While my life has been much less colorful, I have seldom read a book that so perfectly captured the self-dramatizing quality I cringe to recall from that age, or the combination of brashness and insecurity that gave rise to it. Painful but magnificent!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Invisible Tangle,
As Auster tells the story of a young college student getting involved with a strange couple, he is flirting with the story he is telling, and the story of telling stories. The book is largely in three pieces: the first in first person, the second in second person, and the third in third person narrative.
I felt interested in both the story as such -- the tense strategems of the young man coming to terms with witnessing murder, his own incestuous relation with this sister, and more. I was also interested in the playful artistry Auster displayed with storytelling itself, and in particular the issues of who is the narrator really?
But, sadly, I felt a gap between the story itself and the meta-story that left me a bit unsatisfied. I enjoyed the book, but it appears that Mr. Auster is still writing books primarily about ideas, and his rich story in this case makes the ultimate theme of narration seem sterile. I had to totter between feeling relaxed at the campfire hearing a thrilling story, and feeling hunched and tense over rubic's cube puzzle. Those interested in the puzzle may find this a four-star book, and those wanting just a story will likely find it a two-star. Being conditioned to some degree of intellectual hardship, I'm in the middle at three stars.
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Invisible by Paul Auster (Perfect Paperback)
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