There are books I read when I am excited. Books I read when I want to feel sad. Books I read when I need to read a masterpiece. Books I read when I want to connect with everything. Books I read when I want something that is entirely different to anything I, myself, will write. Books I read for comfort. Books I read for violence and anger. Books I read because they are different. Books I read because they are set in Paris. Books I read because they have that ineffable Spanish language quality. Books I read to understand Russians. Books I read to understand horror. Books I read to know I will never understand the Holocaust, the GULAG, concentration camps, firebombing, torture.
And then there are books I like to read when I just want a cool glass of water. I have mentioned this before – Coetzee is such a writer. Kundera is. Auster is, too. So, as the March doldrums approached, I opened Auster’s Leviathan. A cool glass of water.
Auster is extremely talented when it comes to setting up problems for his characters. Invariably, his protagonists are bookish, intelligent men, often New Yorkers, generally failures. And they are held under the sway of a friend, a mentor, an acquaintance – someone whose life is bigger than their own. More important. Certainly more enigmatic.
Where he falls down is, the problems he creates for his characters are often metaphysical in nature, philosophical problems that have no real (or no appealing) solution, and so his climaxes rarely are.
I had a lot of trouble understanding Leviathan. Again and again, interesting situations arose, but they fizzled, always, to nothing, and the characters consistently made puzzling choices which resulted in odd zig-zags of plot. Was this the purpose? I don’t know – I don’t think so.
Bookish men. New Yorkers. A future we are told about in the first few pages. A past we are lectured on over the next fifty. The present collides with the future we know, but it gets there in an odd way. And, somehow, terrorism comes into it. But it doesn’t, not really, and that’s the book.
I like every sentence Auster writes. I dislike, generally, his books in their entirety. I love the promises he makes. I am disappointed that he never sticks to them. What to make of such a writer? The first 100 pages of any Auster novel sets my mind aflame with the possibility of literature. The remaining pages, however many they are, get the job done.
But the water is cool, and tastes good, and I am satisfied. For now.
The Books, Read page contains a list of all of the books I have read over the years.