Review of The Invention of Solitude

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Editors: Daniel G. Marowski and Roger Matuz
Date: 1988
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Book review; Critical essay
Length: 1,264 words

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Titles, pictures, quotations, clippings. Coincidences which are, at first, only significant to the person who initially notices them, but which then are drawn out, riffed on, exegized, until they become larger. Fragments. Literary bits of thought. Old self, new self, self as parent as self. These are items which form a journal. They also form Paul Auster's The Invention of Solitude, which turns out not to be a journal, but a literary evocation of one.

This book happens in two parts. In the first, the unexpected death of Auster's father precipitates a complex examination of his effects—and also of related literary effects. In this section, “Portrait of an Invisible Man,” the literary effects are kept subordinate to the material they evoke. Grief, remorse, and shock make strong glue. In the second part, literature takes over. The resulting series of critical meditations, recollections, and fragments presents itself as the self-conscious creation of a self-conscious tradition; it is by auteurs as much as by an immediate author, and it is as much about reading, and being read, as writing.

From its beginning to its end, The Invention of Solitude is intelligently constructed, especially on the larger structural levels. One idea leads to the next not by the rules of causality or chronology—though these rules are employed within sections of strong narration—but by those of emotional proximity....

Coincidences run strong in this book. They have their problems, even when linked, to use Barthes' phrase, in a “psychological image-system.” Auster tends to link coincidences aphoristically, relying on exterior chance and precedent to an almost frustrating degree. The particular coincidences of location and event which Auster uses sometimes seem overdone and forced; they can short-circuit an otherwise delicately wired narration. In an early section of his book, Auster writes that “The house became the metaphor of my father's life,” an overexplanation which is not very expressive, and which jars not only...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420000403