Saturday, January 02, 2010

Review: “Invisible” by Paul Auster

This review won't, unfortunately, make a lot of sense if you haven't read the novel (which is not recommended for those easily shocked).

This is a novel too complex to easily summarise, certainly without giving away all the essentials. It’s no longer a surprise to be entertained by lengthy descriptions of explicit sexuality, but when the couple are brother and sister there is still the capacity to evoke a visceral discomfort.

However scandalous or salacious this makes the novel, I don’t in the end see it as the main point. The great strength of “Invisible” is the way that each of the characters’ narratives are inconsistent with those given by the others. Perhaps the title refers to the truth, whatever that means.

My main problem with this novel is the motivation for the main character, Adam Walker. Walker clearly considers that his antagonist, Rudolph Born, committed a transcendental crime. It drives all his subsequent self-destructive actions. But I just didn’t buy it – the “crime” seems only mildly morally delinquent and in southern states of America would probably not even be illegal. I don’t know Mr Auster’s politics but Walker’s seem so cartoonishly right-on that my suspension of disbelief basically caved-in. I am prepared to believe there are people out there like that, but Auster didn’t quite convince me that Walker was one of them.

To summarise, “Invisible” is a master class in structuring, plot development, characterisation and description. I read it with increasing engagement and thoughtfulness. It falls short of a masterpiece only in the contrivance of its underlying dynamic.