A narrative trick too many from Auster
Holocaust and a third is a strange parable of the Cold War. Later we come to another story grounded in history, but this time in the present, which is just as violent, just as realistic.
Slowly we start to realise that this book is about a choice between two different kinds of storytelling. It is not that Auster can’t do moving and realistic storytelling. He clearly can. It’s rather that he’s offering us a choice, just as he did in his previous novel, Travels in the Scriptorium.
The realistic mode of narrative involves characters who will draw you in and situations which will be immediately recognisable. The alternative is playful, full of games about narrative, stories within stories, battles between characters and the writers who create them. I can do both, Auster is stating, but I’m going to play around with your expectations.
This will alienate and even offend readers who do not find 9/11, Iraq and the Holocaust suitable subjects for literary games. Doubtless Auster fans will read on undeterred. But maybe it is time this sort of thing was left to consenting adults and for Auster to stop repeating himself and move on. David Herman is the JC’s chief fiction reviewer