INVISIBLE by Paul Auster

Book Quote:

“I could have invented an excuse and told him I was late for another appointment, but I didn’t. That was the other half of the complex equation that represented my dealings with Born. Wary as I might have been, I was also fascinated by this peculiar, unreadable person, and the fact that he seemed genuinely glad to have stumbled into me stoked the fires of my vanity—that invisible cauldron of self-regard and ambition that simmers and burns in each one of us.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage (DEC 26, 2009)

Invisible is my first Auster novel. It’s odd that I never got around to reading him before, but his name came up a few months ago–in praiseworthy terms–from someone whose literary opinions I respect, and so when Auster’s latest book appeared, it didn’t take much to convince me to grab a copy. While the novel is ostensibly the story of what happens to a promising young student named Adam Walker, Auster’s cleverly-constructed tale examines much larger issues, such as the impenetrable nature of truth, the long-lasting affects of grief, the savage tentacles of colonialism and fascism, and the passivity and futility of “good” in the presence of determined evil.

Invisible begins in 1967. The war in Vietnam is escalating, and yet it remains a disturbing background noise to twenty-year-old Adam, a second-year student at Columbia University. Adam is quite aware that his university enrollment spares him the unspeakable necessity of choosing the draft or jail, but Adam is at Columbia because, as a natural intellectual, he belongs there. He’s intelligent, sensitive and personable, and there’s every reason to suppose that Adam has a brilliant future in front of him.

The book opens with Adam attending a party where he meets two French people–visiting Professor Rudolf Born and his mismatched girlfriend, “the inscrutable” exotic Margot. Coincidentally, Adam has been reading poetry written by an obscure twelfth century figure, Bertran de Born–a man whose “genuine passion” was the blood and destruction of warmongering. Professor Born calls the twelfth century poet, “a man after my own heart,” a possibly facetious remark. Yet while Born makes comments about teaching classes on “the disasters of French colonialism,” the disasters seem to focus on “the loss of Algeria and the loss of Indochine,” rather than the fact that France’s colonial quests were wrong from their inception. Born’s opinion on the nature of war is a window into his true beliefs:

“Never underestimate the importance of war. War is the purest, most vivid expression of the human soul.”

While perhaps an older, more experienced person would run from a fresh acquaintance with someone as jaded and acerbic as Born, Adam is captured by a sort of fascination that is coupled with ego–he’s flattered that someone as worldly as Professor Born would single him out for attention. Adam chalks up Born’s unpleasant side to sophistication, and a fateful relationship springs up between Born, Margot and Adam:

“The truth was that I had never run across people like this before, and because the two of them were so alien to me, so unfamiliar in their affect, the longer I talked to them, the more unreal they seemed to become—as if they were imaginary characters in a story that was taking place in my head.”

To the reader, it’s quite apparent that Born and Margot want something from Adam, and a growing sense of unease begins to creep over the novel. The fact that Adam remains largely apart from this atmosphere just adds to the discomfort level as we wait for the ball to drop. But when Born proposes to give Adam thousands of dollars to found and edit a literary magazine, the offer seems too good to be true….

Invisible continues over the course of forty years, with its characters seen through various viewpoints as the thread of the story is picked up by others and transposed to France and finally to a remote island in the Caribbean. Fate plays a large hand in the story of what happens to Adam–a man whose brilliant career and naïve existence runs headlong into the twisted politics of the times. Invisible is an excellent tale exploring the tragedy of unfulfilled lives, lost moments and crushed illusions. Auster delivers a riveting narrative that successfully fuses the plot and intriguing characters with complex questions reflecting the impenetrable nature of truth.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 58 readers
PUBLISHER: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (October 27, 2009)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage


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Movies from Books:

  • The Music of Chance (2003)
  • In the Country of Last Things (2007)

December 26, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2009 Favorites, Contemporary, Literary

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