Boy’s-eye view il­lu­mi­nates con­scious be­gin­nings

The Weekend Australian - Review - - BOOKS - John Free­man

Re­port from the In­te­rior By Paul Auster Faber, 352pp, $27.99 FROM the very be­gin­ning, Paul Auster has writ­ten with un­set­tling clar­ity, like a man look­ing through a mir­ror only he can per­ceive. “It was a wrong num­ber that started it,” his 1985 de­but City of Glass be­gins, and from there Auster in­vents a whole new genre: the ex­is­ten­tial de­tec­tive story.

Even when not turn­ing pri­vate-eye fic­tion in­side out, Auster al­ways works in an in­ves­tiga­tive mode. The ques­tions of his books — what if co­in­ci­dences were not merely such, what if the Iraq war didn’t hap­pen? — as­sume a third di­men­sion un­der the pres­sure of that bound­less clar­ity. In Re­port from the In­te­rior Auster puts

June 28-29, 2014 this style to one of its great­est tests. The events he re­calls in this sort of mem­oir be­gin more than a half-century ago. They ought to be cloudy. And yet, on the ear­li­est pages he sees this era with ex­quis­ite pre­ci­sion. In the be­gin­ning, ev­ery­thing was alive. The small­est ob­jects were en­dowed with beat­ing hearts, and even the clouds had names. Scis­sors could walk, tele­phones and teapots were first cousins, eyes and eye­glasses were broth­ers … The branches of trees were arms. Stones could think, and God was every­where.

Writ­ten in the sec­ond per­son, Re­port from the In­te­rior at­tempts to “ex­plore your mind as you re­mem­ber it from child­hood”. It is a star­tling per­for­mance. By sep­a­rat­ing him­self from that boy with his choice of pro­noun, Auster sig­nals that he is writ­ing of some­one so long ago he might as well be a dif­fer­ent per­son. The only re­cent book to cap­ture so vividly the magic of con­scious­ness’s bloom is the third vol­ume of Karl Ove Knaus­gaard’s My Strug­gle. The Nor­we­gian has the ben­e­fit of time: he is nearly 25 years younger than Auster. Both fol­low Pound’s edict, though: no ideas but in things.

It’s a thingy world, Auster’s child­hood, and he res­ur­rects a boy’s-eye view in which the gap be­tween him and it re­mains very small. His back­yard feels like a jun­gle, he watches the squir­rels in it like an am­a­teur naturalist. The moon peers into his win­dow, like a man look­ing down. Words and letters be­come his friends.

Piece by piece, Auster as­sem­bles his con­scious­ness be­fore us, so el­e­gantly that Re­port from the In­te­rior does not star­tle when it be­gins to torque with ob­ser­va­tion and cri­tique. His par­ents are dis­tant, loom­ing fig­ures, and even then Auster per­ceives a rift in their mar­riage. Mid-century US and all its post-war op­ti­mism shades from might to men­ace emerge in a sin­gle sen­tence about su­per­sonic jets. You re­mem­ber the planes, the su­per­sonic jets roar­ing across the blue skies of sum­mer, cut­ting through the fir­ma­ment at such ex­alted speeds that they were scarcely vis­i­ble, a flash of sil­ver glint­ing briefly in the light, and then, not long af­ter they had van­ished over the hori­zon, the thun­der­ous boom which would fol­low, re­sound­ing for miles in all di­rec­tions, the great det­o­na­tion of blast­ing air that sig­ni­fied the sound bar­rier had been bro­ken yet again.

Auster learns he is dif­fer­ent, a Jew, and be­gins at a young age “to ex­clude yourself from the story”. He loves base­ball and car­toons, movies and in­ven­tors, but he will never stand at the cen­tre. This pos­ture be­comes a strength; he learns to watch, to ob­serve, to take notes of

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.