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Invisible (Rough Cut) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 27, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
In his latest, Auster is in classic form, perhaps too perfectly satisfying the contention of his wearied protagonist: there is far more poetry in the world than justice. Adam Walker, a poetry student at Columbia in the spring of 1967, is Auster's latest everyman, revealed in four parts through the diary entries of a onetime admirer, the confessions of his once-close friend, the denials of his sister and Walker's own self-made frame. With crisp, taut prose, Auster pushes the tension and his characters' peculiar self-awareness to their limits, giving Walker a fractured, knowing quality that doesn't always hold. The best moments from Walker's disparate, disturbing coming-of-age come in lush passages detailing Walker's conflicted, incestuous love life (paramount to his education as a human being, but a violation of his self-made promise to live as an ethical human being). As the plot moves toward a Heart of Darkness–style journey into madness, the limits of Auster's formalism become more apparent, but this study of a young poet doomed to life as a manifestation of poetry carries startling weight. (Nov.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Invisible contains many of the hallmarks of Auster's trade: formal literary devices and stylistic high jinks, psychological depth, elegant prose, and the manipulation of information, voices, and stories. Told against the background of 40 years of history, with shame and colonial guilt ever present, Invisible feels "warmer and more human than the stuff he's famous for" (San Francisco Chronicle) as well as less contrived and more hopeful. Indeed, notes the New York Times Book Review, it's "a love story, or a series of intertwined love stories," with Walker at the core. A few critics thought that Auster's technique overwhelms the story, and one thought the characters uninteresting. But most agreed that Invisible is Auster's finest—and perhaps most accessible—novel to date.
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Top customer reviews
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!
Gets the girl, with a twist
Capable and highly intelligent
And blah blah blah.... plot suffers because of all this. Very samey stuff.
Not much beneath that veneer.
Interesting meta-narrative techniques but not enough to carry the novel.
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.