Leviathan (Paul Auster’s)
Trying on terrorist chic for size – it’s a pretty good summation this review has come up with. And, while I think I will keep plowing through his entire bibliography eventually, I can’t help but say that this little excursion has been disappointing and entirely unsatisfactory.
The main themes are, as always, alienation, chaos and coincidence, with a pretty heavy side of “who knows what truth is, really, and how subjectivity can make you confused”. As I was reading, I assumed that this is one of his first novels and I was willing to let that account for the lack of subtlety and finesse – but since I found out that it’s his seventh, I don’t know what other excuse to use.
The novel is not biographical, but self-referential – the narrator is a novelist called Peter Aaron, with a child from a first marriage and a second wife called Iris (Siri in real life), who has spent several years of his youth in Paris, etc. There are probably other things, but these are the first that sprang to mind and, at this point, I don’t know whether they have a particular role in telling the story or whether Mr. Auster was slightly…lazy. The book is not about Peter though, but about his friend Benjamin Sachs, husband, writer, rebel, murderer, bomber. For a man possessing such a wide variety of talents Sachs is oddly lacking in depth. In fact, I found him to be rather caricaturized by similarities with Thoreau* (the retreat from society), by a hobbesian anger at the state (Leviathan, can anything be more in your face?) and topped with an expectedly functionally dysfunctional marriage.
A lot of the book feels contrived, and its (light) take on terrorism may not fly in light of the 18 years since its publication making it quite dated from this perspective. Unfortunately, the relationship angle doesn’t fare much better – with filler, one-dimensional characters like Maria Turner (based on Sophie Calle, apparently) or Lillian Stern (mysterious, possibly reformed hooker) and with a supposedly magnetic Fanny Stern (as Aaron never fails to mention), who fails to stir any sort of attraction or interest. In fact, this might be the book’s biggest fault – its unrelenting explicitness leaving nothing to the imagination and turning the whole charade in a “posed photo”-like state.
Others have appreciated it so much more – and I’m wondering what this guy saw and I missed.
*it’s a safe bet that Thoreau will pop up in pretty much any Auster novel