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Timbuktu: A Novel Paperback – April 28, 2009
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In Timbuktu Paul Auster tackles homelessness in America using a dog as his point-of-view character. Strange as the premise seems, it's been done before, in John Berger's King, and it actually works. Filtering the homeless experience through the relentlessly unsentimental eye of a dog, both writers avoid miring their tales in an excess of melodrama. Whereas Berger's book skips among several characters, Timbuktu remains tightly focused on just two: Mr. Bones, "a mutt of no particular worth or distinction," and his master, Willy G. Christmas, a middle-aged schizophrenic who has been on the streets since the death of his mother four years before. The novel begins with Willy and Mr. Bones in Baltimore searching for a former high school English teacher who had encouraged the teenage Willy's writerly aspirations. Now Willy is dying and anxious to find a home for both his dog and the multitude of manuscripts he has stashed in a Greyhound bus terminal. "Willy had written the last sentence he would ever write, and there were no more than a few ticks left in the clock. The words in the locker were all he had to show for himself. If the words vanished, it would be as if he had never lived."
Paul Auster is a cerebral writer, preferring to get to his reader's gut through the brain. When Willy dies, he goes out on a sea of words; as for Mr. Bones, this is a dog who can think about metaphysical issues such as the afterlife--referred to by Willy as "Timbuktu":
What if no pets were allowed? It didn't seem possible, and yet Mr. Bones had lived long enough to know that anything was possible, that impossible things happened all the time. Perhaps this was one of them, and in that perhaps hung a thousand dreads and agonies, an unthinkable horror that gripped him every time he thought about it.Once Willy dies and Mr. Bones is on his own, things go from bad to worse as the now masterless dog faces a series of betrayals, rejections, and disappointments. By stepping inside a dog's skin, Auster is able to comment on human cruelties and infrequent kindnesses from a unique world view. But reader be warned: the world in Timbuktu is a bleak one, and even the occasional moments of grace are short lived. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Meet discerning and sympathetic Mr. Bones, a dog who is unconditionally faithful to his troubled master, Willy G. Christmas. Auster's leading human character is once again a tormented writer from Brooklyn who blindly believes in his ideals and willingly chooses to become a vagabond (see, for instance, Leviathan, LJ 7/92). But the real hero is the four-legged creature who follows him on his impromptu journeys and leads readers through the story. Yes, he thinks and he understands, and although he cannot speak, he keenly observes and contemplates the questionable logic of human behavior. The beginning of the story is promising; the middle gets suspiciously trivial but is rescued by a clever and moving ending. This is not the kind of work Auster has been praised for, but it proves his hunger for innovation once again. Timbuktu will undoubtedly provoke mixed responses, but that is the price of originality. There is something plain yet mysteriously intricate beneath Auster's trademark smooth writing.
-AMirela Roncevic, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Timbuktu is unlike anything I thought Auster capable of writing. Our narrator and protagonist is Mr. Bones, a through-and-through mutt owned by a delusional and kind-hearted vagabond named Willy. We see life through Mr. Bones' eyes, and Auster does a magnificent job of breaking we humans down to our most essential characteristics. Mr. Bones sees life as it is, and sees us for who we are.
The story took a while to heat up because Willy proclaimed early on that death awaited him. The only problem was, while death certainly awaited him, I got irritated waiting for Willy to finally die so that Mr. Bones' next step in life could begin. Once Willy headed for Timbuktu and Mr. Bones blazed a new trail in the world, I could hardly put the book down.
Again, I can hardly believe the man who wrote The New York Trilogy, an utterly experimental and complex work, also wrote Timbuktu, a short novel told to us from the experiences of a dog.
Auster is a true artist, a man willing to write whatever he wants despite externally imposed conventions, and I dare you to resist the warmth and charm of this story and Mr. Bones. Furthermore, I challenge you to keep a dry eye on the last page.
~Scott William Foley, author of Souls Triumphant
How do we know the things we know, and how accurately do we know them when they are described by words? When we read a book, we tend to think the words are absolute in expressing ideas. They are, after all, the author's tools.
Mr Bones' idea of the human world is convoluted-not-clarified by words. Mr Bones' notions of what things are is not so clear when all he has to go on is the word. What is Timbuktu? A symbol of heaven? But what if pets are not allowed? Or is it just a dry, dusty little city in the sw Sahara?
What is this "vacation" the Joneses are going on, when Mr Bones' only idea is Mom-san's "I'm on vacation" at the end of house chores?
There is a word on p 26 used to describe Willy's career: vagabondage. A real word. A word that consists of two words (vagabond and bondage) nearly opposite in meaning, hinged on a third: "bond". This is pretty heady stuff, not unlike the Mirror Fugues in Bach's "Art of Fugue".
In "In the Country of Last Things" there is a passage about the deterioration of words, of how they wear out and lose their meanings. This theme is prominent in this work.
Then there is Mr Bones. Aka Cal Ripken Junior the Second. Aka Sparky. Same creature, and just as real to each of his "boon companions". What is this three-named creature? Is he any different in any of those identities?
This one looks like it's ready for a doctoral dissertation right out of the box. And my favorite Auster. So far.
Now homeless, and frantic with panic, Mr. Bones uses his wits and the knowledge gleaned from his schizophrenic master. In his search for food, shelter and safety from being captured and put down by the dog police, he reveals the ugly and sometimes kind nature of humans. The vulnerability of such a situation allows the author to sear your heart and mind with images that will be difficult to forget. The author holds nothing back as he projects Mr. Bones' reactions to the actions of strangers. Be it man, or beast, all are looking for acceptance and a little kindness, and when those are violated the betrayal is deep and painful.
Yet, despite the hurdles, Mr. Bones rationalizes his situation with a forgiving nature, a predisposition for seeing into the future and a desire to make do with what he has. Expect to shed a few tears and smiles. If you have a dog, they most likely will be happy to share your joy and sorrow.