Paul Auster – The Brooklyn Follies
Nathan and Tom are an uncle and nephew double-act – one in remission from lung cancer, divorced, and estranged from his only daughter, the other hiding away from his once-promising academic career. Matters change when Lucy, a little girl who refuses to speak, comes into their lives… So far the book cover.
“Every destination is arbitrary, every decision is governed by chance. You float, you weave, you get there as fast as you can, but you don’t really have a say in the matter”, a line uttered by one of the figures, to my mind would make a better synopsis of the moving mosaic of stories, centered around Brooklyn-borne Nathan Glass. Auster’s perspective follows as such not only Kafka or Hawthorne, but Balzac, who declared: “le hasard est le plus grand romancier du monde” (Avant-propos de La Comédie Humaine). I guess, it is hence not by chance, that the narrator himself is writing a book within the book titled “Human follies”. Obviously, as more and more people keep finding out, chance is not only a great author of fiction, but does a good deal of the work in real life as well. If literature strives to explain human existance, then reference to chance is just honest.
When I read all those comments by official critiques, amazonauts and those who call themselves Auster-aficionados about what Auster is supposed to write typically and what he is not typical about, I am lost. Whatever he is supposed or not suppose to write, for me this story is poetry about chance as a relevant part of reality, and about meaning of human existence. It is not only entertaining, but asks the big questions about life and keeps up hope that there might be a meaningfull dimension to it. On top of it: despite them abandoning life with cynism, abandoning an academic career in depression, abandoning a child in despair, abandoning a stale job in love, abandoning a wrecked marriage in fury, abandoning bougeois honesty in ennui – I love all characters in this book. Folly is their abandon, but folly too were it, would they not muster the courage to leave behind what turns out to be past anyway. And here I notice a difference to previous Auster novels: given that chance does fit in, none of the characters – who all leave something behind them – is not gaining in the end. That makes reading not only entertaining but heartwarming too.