Saturday, 11 February 2012

Paul Auster- Invisible

Faber & Faber

Paul Auster

"Fear is what drives us to take risks and extend ourselves beyond our normal limits, and any writer who feels he is standing on safe ground is unlikely to produce anything of value."

Paul Auster made a name for himself with the trifecta of novellas that comprised The New York Trilogy (1985-1986), where he combined a modern day take on crime fiction with a masterfully weaved post-modern surrealism, giving literary students things to pointlessly argue about for years to come. In the decade and a half since then, he firmly established himself as one of the world's premier fiction writers, releasing an unbroken chain of quality work, each varying in their usage of the strange but managing to retain an essence of the surreal through carefully constructed prose and the author's willingness to experiment with both conventional storytelling and form itself. Invisible is a tour-de-force of character-based storytelling, with Auster again playing with the modern novel in superb style.

It tells the story of a man who's life is permanently changed after one violent incident in the company of another, and how his life changes as a result. To attempt to summarize the plot here would probably result in failure, so I'll resist the urge to divulge the details of this human drama, other than to say that it's gripping stuff, thanks to the intriguing, fleshed out portrayals of humanity living on the page. It's all presented within the framework of a novel within a novel, as it is revealed early on that what we're reading is an autobiographical 'manuscript' of one year in a life, sent by the protagonist character to another author for perusal. As such, each main segment of the book is framed within the development of this context as well as the main events. Furthermore, Auster changes the perspective of the narrator with each segment; from first to second person, and more. It's an interesting, daring choice that serves to distance the text from a definitive truth, to a more ambiguous, uncertain retelling that flows within the context of the often strange events being told.

Invisible is a hard novel to define, as I'm discovering right now, but it is a fantastic read, and one that remains easy to follow and constantly enjoyable despite its experimental style. I recommend it to anyone as an engaging human drama containing enigmatic figures who help the author explore varying issues of identity and retribution with the former permeating not just the plot, but the style of prose itself.