Lately I’ve been reading and sewing, sewing and reading. Oh, and fighting with my daughter, who is almost eight and all of a sudden, has decided that I’m an IDIOT. Yes, already. Homework is taking its toll, my friends, and it’s only early October, which does not bode well for me, either for this school year, or for her looming adolescence in general.
So books and fabric are much-needed escapes, lately. I read The Boy in the Suitcase (which was a quick, enjoyable thriller – thanks Emilie, for the recommendation!), and then The Bright Side of Disaster (fluff set in Houston, of all places!). Both good for a quickie, if you get my drift.
But then I came across Invisible, by Paul Auster, and things got serious up in here.
I do this thing sometimes when I find a new writer I really, really love. I gobble up all of their stuff in a frenzy, and end up remembering almost none of it, other than how marvelous everything was. Which is another good reason for the blog. (An aside: The last time this happened was about two years ago, when I discovered Barbara Vine. Have you read her? I can’t remember if I’ve told you about Vine yet, but if you haven’t read any of her stuff – do so. She is complicated and brilliant and sweeping, with some of the best character development I’ve seen in modern novels. (An embedded aside within the aside: Barbara Vine is Ruth Rendell’s pseudonym, but she only uses it for a certain subset of very complicated stories concerned with familial drama. They are UH-MAY-ZING.) Anyway, when I discovered Barbara Vine, I devoured all her books IN A ROW without coming up for air for about three months.)
Is that cover not CREEPY AS FUCK? I love it.
So Paul Auster is going to be another one of these, for me. I can’t remember who brought Invisible to my friend Wendy’s book exchange, but I’m the one who ended up with it. (Kristine - was it you? I’d love to know who has read it.) I think I have blog notes scribbled on almost every page of this thing. This is the type of narrative that I’d spend an entire semester cogitating over in graduate school, but I still think it accessible on a number of levels – the basic plot, on its own, is great. The challenge for me, in this review, is not to go too crazy on the literary analysis, since Invisible is jam-packed with fun-to-puzzle-over literary stuff as well as just being a plain old good story.
Anyway, the book takes place in three perfectly drawn sections (each, interestingly, told from a different point of view and in a different person, yet telling one continuous and chronological tale) and centers around one solitary, disturbing event,* as well as the main character’s continued reaction to it throughout the rest of his life. The novel’s organization satisfied my weird (OCD? Most likely) obsession with order and symmetry. For example, the first section is written in the first person, the second in the second person (which is particularly unusual, and I bet hard to pull off without sounding hokey), and the third in the, uh…third. In other words, it struck me as an extremely disciplined piece of writing. Invisible “grabs” like a thriller, but is meticulously measured and controlled.
Another thing I loved was the book’s concern with itself as a book. Each section, you see, encapsulates a “manuscript” (the main action), the circumstances around the “writer’s” or “reader’s” perusal of it, and that character’s response to it. So the novel uses a sort of metaspeak to position itself as an intertext, which totally turns the idea of “The Novel” on its head, really. (And is a super SUPER cool technique, to boot.) Also, Invisible does a kind of riff on the postmodern question of the self’s duality – mind versus body. The “writer,” Alex Walker, is here, but not: He’s simultaneously a writer, a character, and gone…yet his words enable a sort of resurrection, both to the “reader” (in the story) and to the (actual) reader. Indeed, words are of supreme importance in the novel – writers, translators, scholars, speech pathologists, and those without words (by reason of language barrier or shyness or other issues) populate the narrative, books and poetry are bandied about, sexual dirty talk is explored, as is the French tu/vous issue. Furthermore, characters are drawn either of the body, or of the mind, never both. On the one hand, we have Margot, who seems defined by her love of food and sex (both utterly corporeal fascinations), and Born (yes, the name is intentional, I am certain), who is, by the end, magnificently obese and sporting only shorts. (I know. Put on a robe, dude!) On the other hand, we have Alex, the unpublished writer whose exceptional mind seems to prevent him from speaking or interacting with the world effectively, and Cecile, the translator who possesses a brilliant intellect but unfortunate looks. Anyway, it’s great, and I could go on for about ten pages, but I’ll spare you. Just read it. It will be time well-spent.
I’ll leave you with this, the fruits of my other obsession – tunics! And if you haven't yet "liked" Sarah Said Sew on Facebook, please do!
*No, of course I won’t tell you the event. Read the book!