Paul Auster – "Oracle Nights"

12 Oct

GENRE: Contemporary fiction / literary
PUBLISHED: Faber and Faber, 2004

From: Paul Auster (The Definitive Website):
“Several months into his recovery from a near-fatal illness, novelist Sidney Orr enters a stationery shop in Brooklyn and buys a blue notebook. It is September 18, 1982, and for the next nine days Orr will live under the spell of this blank book, trapped inside a world of eerie premonitions and bewildering events that threaten to destroy his marriage and undermine his faith in reality.”

I wanted to begin this review with: “I really liked this book.” But that would be true only for the first half of it. Around that point, the book changed. What started as a book about a writer, problems to write and writing itself turned into a story about the writer’s marriage, his wife’s possible former relationship with the writer’s friend, and the difficult son of this friend (did the difficult son remind anyone else of Siri Hustvedt’s novel What I loved?). The problem here is, the new story has only flimsy or underdeveloped connections to the first part of the book: the writings in the notebook are supposed to be premonitions of what’ll happen. Err, at least that is what I made of it to keep the feeling that I’m reading a novel and not two short stories.

I like Paul Auster’s style, the book reads well and I finished it in one sitting (it’s around 200 pages long). In the first half, there are interesting glimpses of the writing process, and the second half is in its own way interesting, too. That is my way of saying, that the second half is not notably worse than the first, it’s just different. There may be some who enjoy this part better, but (as I read) Auster is known for writing books about the themes of the first part, so I doubt there are many.

Besides the feeling to read another story in the second half of the book, I had two other problems with this part. I found a few scenes a bit unbelievable or over-the-top. And I saw the events happening in this part stand out a mile. Sadly, not because I was able to “read” the “premonitions” in the notebook. It was because they were rather standard revelations.

So, is Oracle Night a good book for a first time Auster reader as the Herald is quoted on the back blurb? Yes, because it shows that Auster can write. No, because it shows that Auster can’t write a “real” novel.

So what will I do? I’m not against reading another “Auster”, but I will stick to the ones mentioned by other readers of Oracle Night who had the same complaints about it as I.

Would I recommend this novel? I believe there are “better” novels by Auster out there so probably not.

Would I read this novel again? No.

Grade: 3 / 5


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