Sunday, 13 September 2015

The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster

Wobbling between hope and doom
Grudgingly, I have included the definite article to the title of this post. My 2005 uncorrected proof copy, sublime in its pure off-whiteness with embossed gilt lettering omitted the 'The' and, in my opinion, better suited the content. For whilst it is a chronicle of folly, specifically those of Nathan Glass, his nephew Tom Wood, neice Aurora, and the neighbouring denizens of Brooklyn, New York, I suspect there are many more that escape un-chronicled. 

But first, the usual detritus of contextualisation. Having tucked away D. B. C. Pierre's Lights Out in Wonderland, itself a story of outrageous folly, pinioned throughout by the protagonist-narrator's desire to commit suicide, the opening line of this book, always a winner when penned by Auster, struck me as contiguous:
I was looking for a quiet place to die.
I was to discover quickly that he had no plans to hasten his own end, but the connection was established. Narrator Nathan is a divorcĂ©, survivor of cancer, and a man isolated from his past life by pride, sloth and probably a few of the other big sins too. Having liquidated shared assets, he is able to realise a comfortably indifferent existence in Brooklyn, filling time between trips to see his favourite waitress at a local diner by recording, in what he considers his legacy to mankind, anecdotes and stories from his life and those of others that struck him as particular exemplars of the folly of humanity. Serendipity intrudes in the form of an unlikely rekindling of familial ties when he discovers his nephew Tom, once the great hope of the family, growing flabby and fusty in the dusty confines of a local second-hand and rare book shop. 

Typical of this book, and perhaps of Auster's novels in general, there is a light-follows-dark-follows-light pattern (consider the characters' names -  Wood, Glass, Dunkel [Auster tells us this means 'Dark' in German] - opaque and transparent in turn) and the narrative wobbles between hope and doom, through eye-brow-raising tales of extortion, road trips, and cult-kidnapping, between unlikely love stories and right up to another major health scare, before sending Nathan back out into the world filled with hope. And of course, this being a New York Novel of the post-9/11 age, the bleak, billowing clouds of dust and death mass on the horizon at the story's end. Pulling it all right along are Auster's own notable abilities as a storyteller, and the pages turn quickly in what is otherwise an excellent if lightweight offering. Auster is quoted (somewhere) as saying, "It's a book about survival." In terms of unlikely coincidences and unfortunate accidents, it could be said that The Brooklyn Follies is also a continuation of his work in The New York Trilogy of which he said*:
I believe the world is filled with strange events. Reality is a great deal more mysterious than we ever give it credit for.
*Joseph Mallia in BOMB magazine, 1988

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