Official Invisible Review x 2

>> Thursday, August 19, 2010

Paul Auster
After finishing Invisible by Paul Auster in no less than 24 hours, I contacted my reading buddy, Amy. She too finished in one day. I'm telling you, this book was just what I needed. I was in a reading funk. Sure, the books I was reading were good, however, I wanted to be rattled and sucked into a novel like the little boy who found himself stuck inside a Pepsi bottle while trying to get that last drop of sweet goodness.

Amy and I met up at Portland City Grill for happy hour and book talk. We got started right away while gazing out at the beauty of the great northwest. We laughed at how we underlined the same lines, come to similar conclusions, and blushed while dissecting the sexual tension this book created. I have not experienced writing this captivating in years. Granted I just finished graduate school, but whatever.

**Spoiler Alert**

I found this novel to not be disturbing. This may shock some readers due to the second section that is about incest between a brother and a sister. I have two older brothers. One brother is 18 months older than me, and the other is four years older than me. We are all close, but the idea of anything sexual is disturbing beyond words. Yet, when Auster was telling the love story of these two people, I started to forget they were related, much less siblings. The story is more about two people comforting each other while dealing with pain and the reality of life. I am by no means condoning, accepting, or excusing the inappropriate relationship in this novel, but the powerful relationship brings up, and ties together, the themes of the book: morality, relationships, truth, how people cope, and right vs. wrong.

I just bought The New York Trilogy by Auster and can't wait to read it. Below is Amy's wonderful, and much more academic, review of the novel. Enjoy!


**Spoiler Alert**

I had to take a bit of time to think about this book before I wrote a review. Part of me wants to give it five stars because I felt compelled to read it and not put it down. It was totally a book that sucked me in. It feels autobiographical and confessional, but we'll get to that. The other part of me feels like it only rates a 4/4.5 stars because much of the book could be read as the ultimate male sexual fantasy. First, Walker encounters Margot, who is "a cipher, an utter blank" (28), and he proceeds to have fantastic sex with her for a week, an affair actually, though we are told that Walker is supposedly "a person of deep moral integrity, a pillar of moderation" (41). Or rather, we are told third hand. Born tells Walker that is sources tell him that Walker is such a person. This is a good example of the convolutions in this novel.

What Auster has really done here is create a meditation on authorship. Who wrote these stories? Is Auster James Freeman? (Before you answer that question, read Auster's bio and then read this book. It could be Auster's life: went to Columbia, year in Paris, returned to Columbia, all in the years that book takes place). Did Walker have a torrid, incestuous relationship with his sister or was that just another male sexual fantasy as his sister claims? Freeman openly acknowledges that he fleshed out the third section of the book from fragmentary notes, which adds another level of questions about authorship. As a piece of literature, this book would make an excellent discussion piece for a critical theory class who wanted to delve into all those lovely deconstruction questions about whether the author matters or whether we are just making signs that are interpreted by each reader differently, etc.

Moving on from that morass of twistiness, there are the clear borrowings or nods to Goethe's Faust. Anyone who's read Faust must certainly recognize Mephistopheles in Born. There are all the references to Dante's Inferno and the author Bertran de Born that Walker connects with Born from the start. So already we have this walk, ever deeper into the lacuna coil of what may or may not be Walker's imagination. He seems to know everything. His manipulations always lead to the most wicked places, including murder and affairs. Margot in contrast is called an "angel" (27). Walker says that his family was "blessed with the genes of angels" (78). Interestingly, Auster also creates Walker as a man "born sterile" (86). Why? What was the point of that? One possible suggestion would be that angels are androgynous and incapable of procreation. And Lucifer (Satan/Mephisto) was an angel, which leads me to my thoughts about the title of the book.

There are so many subtle ways that Auster uses the word "invisible" in this book. The first time is in this quote: "vanity-that invisible cauldron of self-regard and ambition that simmers and burns in each one of us" (15). Vanity was Lucifer's sin. He thought he was as good or better than God. Walker similar speaks of his "insufferable human perfection" (78). Then there is the invisibility of the "actual" author. Many of the characters are described as invisible or not quite there (cf. Margot's description above). There is the invisible murderer who may or may not have killed the boy in the park (which may or may not be Born). There is the long dead little brother, who is present but invisible as both Walker and Gwyn celebrate his birthday annually and make up a life for him that he's never lived. Also, there is this quote from Oppen:

Impossible to doubt the world: it can be seen
And because it is irrevocable

It cannot be understood, and I believe that fact is lethal. (182).

In other words, if something is invisible, you can doubt it, as you'll find yourself doing with most of this book. But it's delicious doubt, the kind of doubt that makes you want to turn around and reread the book again (another reason for wanting to give it 5 stars). And these are just a few uses of the idea of invisibility.

Add to this the theme of morality. Auster consistently sets up these situations for his characters where the morality is in a great big grey area. So, in a sense, the morality itself is invisible. It's neither here nor there. When Born stabbed the young man under the bridge, was he right to do so because he was defending himself and Walker or was he a brutal murderer who returned to the park later and stabbed the kid 12 more times for fun? When Walker and Margot have their sex bender, is it an affair, or is it just an interlude between two consenting adults, neither of whom is married and one of whom is at the tail end of a bad relationship? Was Walker's mother at fault for her son's death? Should she have been watching him more closely? Or was it a freak accident caused by the hubris of a willful child? When Walker and Gwyn have their summer of incestuous marriage (or didn't if you choose to believe Gwyn), was it really as sick as we think or were they just taking comfort in the familiar? Is the incest taboo a morality system imposed by Western culture and religion or is it more widely believed (sociologists side with the latter, actually)? SO many morality questions. Too many to list here, but you get the picture.

So, I went ahead and gave it five stars because I liked it so much, was intrigued by it, and I suspect Auster is a genius. You might read it differently and just see it as a string of male fantasies and peregrinations that you have no time for. But really that just proves this experiment for Auster ;) Honestly, I think the director from Memento needs to take this book and make a film out of it. Now THAT would be something to see.

~A. K. Huseby


Mrs.B. September 2, 2010 at 4:52 PM  

I've loved Paul Auster's books for many years but I have to say I was disappointed in Invisible. I can understand why this would be enjoyed though by people who haven't read Auster before. I'm not sure if this is the first Auster for both of you but you both wrote interesting reviews and brought up points I haven't thought about before.
If this is your first then you only have better books to look forward to...

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