Paul Auster’s Blue Jay Way

Paul Auster

Paul Auster

 

 

On the flight out to Malta I finished Paul Auster’s Man in the Dark. In the Guardian in February this year, Gilbert Adair wrote about the ‘Fallacy of Retentive Admiration’, which he described as being ‘a reluctance to “drop” some artist in whom one has formerly invested a measure of faith and esteem.’ As a young man, I certainly fell prey to this fallacy with regard to The Beatles; because it, whatever it was, was by The Beatles it had to be good, even though part of me knew, deep down, that sometimes it wasn’t. I was even capable of arguing that Blue Jay Way was a literary and musical masterpiece (I defy anyone now to post a comment stating that it is). I therefore finished Man in the Dark with immense sentiments of irritation, frustration and just a little admiration. The basic conceit, of a character who lives in parallel versions of America, themselves inventions of an author’s mind, is a characteristically clever one, rich in potential. In one of those parallel worlds civil war has broken out in the US (again), and the book’s basic theme is summed up in one short paragraph, on page 111, when a character states ‘America’s at war, all right. We’re just not fighting it here. Not yet, anyway.’ I read on loyally, but never stopped feeling that the basic conceit, of a post 9/11 dual dystopian vision, could – should – have amounted to a (very) good short story. Instead, the book seems, to this reader, to have been padded out with a mish-mash of sentimental musings and notebook fragments, expertly melded together though they may have been. Believe me, it doesn’t come easy to do this to one of my heroes, but though surely inadvertent, the use of a deep well as a port between alternative realities strongly echoes Murakami (The Wind-up Bird Chronicle); no less than seven pages (15-22) are devoted to plot summaries of three films (The Bicycle Thief, Grand Illusion and The World of Apu); the chief protagonist, Owen Brick, ‘leaves the world in silence, with no chance to say a last word or think a last thought’ on page 118, with 62 pages still to go (Mein Gott); 180 pages is in any case slim, even for a novella; and there are so many infelicities of one sort or another that this manuscript would surely have been shredded by even the gentlest members of my writers’ circle. I suppose we’re all entitled to an occasional Blue Jay Way. But, Paul, please, let’s not make this a habit, OK?

1 Comment

  1. Nobody is perfect: I’m sure even Murakami could have an occasional Blue Jay Way, maybe it’s part of the inspiration deficit a writer has compulsorily to go through at one point or another of his career.
    If Paul Auster would realise it could at least allow him to get through a small relity-check, a little remise en question to refreshen up a bit and follow other movies and read other authors.
    It’s tough to always meet the expectations of those who admire the master and come up with new things, I suppose he read too much of Murakami before writing this novel. When I write something I’m always influenced by the style and tonality of the 2-3 books read previously.
    Your comment shows why it’s good to be critical and always question one’s heroes.
    My only worry is why find it frustrating the main hero leaves “the world in silence, with no chance to say a last word or think a last thought” on page 118? If the book is a cocktail of nonsense I guess the poor hero did not have anything to say anymore and he just felt like vanishing. Or maybe he did continue to live but in one of those parallel worlds where he may be just reading now your reviw: the mirror in the mirror stuff…

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