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Oracle Night: A Novel (Auster, Paul) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, December 2, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Oracle Night, Paul Auster returns to one of his favorite themes: writing about writers and the act of writing. Recovering from a severe illness that has left him weak and prone to nosebleeds, struggling novelist Sidney Orr takes the suggestion of his mentor, the acclaimed novelist John Trause, and begins a story about a man who, upon considering a near-death experience as an omen (or excuse), walks out on his wife and begins a new life. Nick Bowen, Orr's protagonist, moves to Kansas City and finds work with a man engaged in creating a sort of catalogue of all known persons from a warehouse filled with phonebooks. Dressed in Goodwill clothing, Nick finds it "fitting to don the wardrobe of a man who has likewise ceased to exist--as if that double negation made the erasure of his past more thorough, more permanent." Grace, however, acts strangely soon after Sidney begins the "novel-within-a-novel" in a mysterious blue notebook.

Auster uses footnotes to provide interesting backstory and develops Sidney's insecurities regarding love and fidelity, but when Sidney hits a patchy spot and writes Bowen into a corner, he (and Auster) shrugs and drops the story. The mystery that seemingly unrelated coincidences may have a causal connection is left unresolved, and Trause's delinquent son shows up to facilitate a hollow, climactic ending. Auster is a gifted writer, to be sure, but once trapped by the inner story, Oracle Night loses steam. --Michael Ferch

From Publishers Weekly

One morning in September 1982, a struggling novelist recovering from a near-fatal illness purchases, on impulse, a blue notebook from a new store in his Brooklyn neighborhood. So begins Auster's artful, ingenious 12th novel, which is both a darkly suspenseful domestic drama and a moving meditation on chance and loss. Reflecting on a past conversation and armed with his new notebook, Sidney Orr is compelled to write about a man who walks away from his comfortable, staid life after a brush with death a contemporary retelling of the Flitcraft episode in Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. Orr's description of his fictional project takes over for a while, but through a framing narrative and a series of long, occasionally digressive footnotes, he teasingly reveals himself, his lovely wife, Grace, and their mutual friend, the famous novelist John Trause. While Orr's hero finds himself locked in a bomb shelter, Grace begins behaving strangely, the stationery shop is shuttered, John's drug-addicted son looms menacingly in the background and the blue notebook exerts a troubling power. The plot of this bizarrely fascinating novel strains credibility, but Auster's unique genius is to make the absurd coherent; his stories have a dreamlike, hallucinatory logic. The title comes from the name of the novel that appears within the story Orr is writing, and hints at the book's theme: that fiction might be at some level prophetic, not merely reflecting reality but shaping it. There is tension, however, between power and impotence: as Orr puts it, "Randomness stalks us every day of our lives, and those lives can be taken from us at any moment for no reason at all."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Series: Auster, Paul
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (December 2, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805073205
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312423667
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,476,014 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Auster is the bestselling author of Travels in the Scriptorium, The Brooklyn Follies, and Oracle Night. I Thought My Father Was God, the NPR National Story Project anthology, which he edited, was also a national bestseller. His work has been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Customer Reviews

Whatever the reason, this book is what happens when good writers go bad.
Daniel L Edelen
After reading it I wonder if there is any writer of fiction working today who has the gifts and the skills , the sheer mastery, that Auster does.
Shalom Freedman
Backstory footnotes seem like a novel idea, but Auster completely loses the reader.
Stalingrad

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Louis N. Gruber VINE VOICE on December 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Sidney Orr is just recovering from a near fatal illness, and is thinking about starting back to writing. He stumbles into a little stationery shop owned by a mysterious Chinese, and purchases a unique last-of-its-kind notebook from Portugal. With just such seemingly unrelated details, author Paul Auster lures you into his alternate reality, a world of haunting questions and mysteries.
Is there anything more to life than chance? Does anything have meaning? What is the nature of time? And most importantly, can fantasy become reality? Does the writer with his fantastic creations actually bring about future events?
Author Auster, who wrote The Book of Illusions, is a master at creating what a psychiatrist would call "dissociation"--the splitting of consciousness. With apparent ease he has the reader following three stories at once--story within story within story--and slipping into something like a trance. He fixates the reader's attention with Chinese stationers and secretive spouses and leads the reader off track with rambling footnotes that go on for several pages. He is extremely skilled at this.
I can't tell you much about the plot--you will just have to read it yourself--but I can tell you that you will be--well--entranced. I highly recommend this one! Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
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2 of 0 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
If you like Auster's books, you'll love this one - more than follows up on the strength of Book of Illusions - but this one is somehow leaner, more streamlined. Amazing that he can write a novel of such speed that at the same time contains as much serious reflection as Oracle Night.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Dunn on January 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This little book gave me that rare experience of being absolutely unable to stop reading the thing! I had read, and so thoroughly enjoyed, The Music of Chance some years ago, that upon fininshing, I immediately went back to the beginning and read it again. I don't know why it's taken me so long to read another Auster, but I was certainly not disappointed. I loved M.R. Chang, Ed Victory, and Sidney Orr - even the horrible Jacob is intriguing, almost sympathetic in his way, before the awful and unexpected denouement. I didn't feel the ending was abrupt, as some reviewers have - maybe it's the kind of book that's too good to have to stop reading, or writing. Curse you, Paul Auster! Now I have to read all your other books.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By R. Spitzer on January 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book caught my attention quickly, and kept me puzzled and, at times, almost, spellbound. There were layers upon layers of coincidence and happenstance, and I felt that ultimately, surely, this would all come together through skillful writerly sleight-of-hand. Such was not, however, the outcome. Countless hints and feints just fade away, never explained, never resolved. The "resolution" was too quick and incomplete; almost a quickie deus-ex-machina formulation, leaving far too many issues hanging, unexplained, irritating, bothering, and making me wonder whether I hadn't wasted my time on this book.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Brandon Whitfeld on December 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I was really into Auster after I read "The New York Trilogy". Here was a very unique voice, shifting between some sort of latent psychosexual existentialism and classic Dashiell Hammett-ish Detective fiction, creating something utterly new.

Sometimes a great writer will only have one or two great books in them (it has been argued, respectively, of JD Salinger, although I disagree, but what about Harper Lee or Ralph Ellison? Or even Nabokov?) The point is, I have never read another work from Auster that equalled the first one I found so passionately transfixing. But that was years ago.

Oracle Night seems a bit like an inside joke. I felt like I was reading scattershot notes for a novel-to-be rather than a published work, and truthfully, I felt a little insulted. Auster has been reading a lot of John Updike. The whiny protagonist, Sidney Orr, is a writer who goes through an early midlife crisis once he is released from the hospital after a mysterious illness nearly takes his life.

He becomes obsessed with a blue notebook he finds at a stationery store in Brooklyn. It's so mysterious, in fact, that the store inexplicably shutters overnight, and our hero is baffled by the closing. Wow, can you imagine? Never saw that one coming, did you? Then strange, ridiculous things start happening--his homebodied life with his pretty wife starts coming apart, his relationship with an accomplished writer is strained, and then lots of bad, edgy, violent stuff that will literally make you laugh out loud, especially that tacked-on embarrassing ending that attempts to justify it all. There are pregnancies, affairs, failed relationships, prostitution, paranoia, fight scenes, and drug addiction. Hey, maybe Auster should start writing for The OC.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Linda Oskam on October 10, 2005
Format: Paperback
Sidney Orr is a 34-year old writer in New York who is recovering from a near fatal illness. As part of his rehabilitation he roams the streets of his neighbourhood, where one day he finds the Paper Palace, a stationary shop where he buys a blue Portuguese notebook from the Chinese owner. When he gets home he immediately starts to write a story about a man who one day walks out on his wife and disappears without a trace. But after a while he gets stuck and does not know how to continue. In the meantime he finds out that his wife is pregnant, his house is broken into, he endangers his marriage when he encounters the Chinese shopowner Mr Chang again, his best friend, the renowned author John Trause, has health problems and the son of this best friend ends up in a rehab centre. And all that in the timespan of nine days. As Sidney tries to cope with all this he needs his blue notebook to make sense of all the developments.

This book gets mixed reviews on Amazon and I see the problems that some people have with the two relatively unfinished story lines. Paul Auster can definitely write: even though the story as such was not terribly interesting to me (except for the story within the story of the guy who disappears without a trace), the book is so well-written that I was simply forced to read on. 
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