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

3.3 out of 5 stars 106 customer reviews

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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."
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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 (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,913,621 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

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
Auster typically writes about what he knows best, being a writer and living in New York. That's what makes him so good. In this regard (Oracle Night) really wasn't that much different than some of his other novels. There really wasn't anything there--and yet there was so much there. This book changed me, but I can't say how. Sapen (in his previous review) put it much more eloquently than I ever could. Very Zen, if that's what Zen means.

At first I detested the notion of footnotes. I found them ostentatious, and considered Auster sort of a jerk for using them in this way because I don't want to think of one of my favorite writer's as being pretentious. But I love Auster's works and so I opened my mind and decided this was no different than if my sister was telling me a really good story and simply digressed, as we all so often do while story-telling, which actually made me wind up feeling really glad that Auster did this. It was actually pretty brilliant.

Stick with it and you won't be disappointed. There is something very pure and beautiful within the pages of this novel.
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Format: Hardcover
Read the first sentence of ORACLE NIGHT and you'll be caught in the vortex of this intricate, well-crafted story. The plot seems simple enough at first. A man recovering from an undefined illness takes a walk around his neighborhood to gather his thoughts and get his bearings. He stops at a new stationery store, introduces himself to the strange but friendly owner, and buys a crisp blue notebook made in Portugal. He returns home to get ready for dinner with his wife, whom he adores, and her old-time family friend, another writer who --- it is rumored --- is finishing yet another book.
Upon closer inspection readers realize that the main character, Sidney Orr, is grasping at a writing career he fears may be slipping away from him. The blue notebook inspires fevered writing sessions that lead him to question whether fiction predicts or limits his future, and reveals a darker version to the sunnier reality that he conveys or believes to be true.
With every sentence and each turned page, readers gather new scraps of information about Sidney and his life. Yet ORACLE NIGHT is a story within a story, a piece of multifaceted fiction revealed as Sidney scribbles in his blue book from Portugal. And what he discovers as he writes is that the secrets of daily life can be worse than the scariest fiction and what may appear to be a dead end.
ORACLE NIGHT is a tightly spun tale, a compilation of several stories or portraits of people who struggle to live the lives they think they've always wanted, and ultimately discover that it may be okay to change course somewhere in the middle. Somewhere in the middle is where we join these characters who live in New York within the intertwined circles of the publishing world and struggle with the question of who they are, will be and ultimately should be.
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