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A Novel

Paul Auster


Invisible Download image

ISBN10: 0312429827
ISBN13: 9780312429829

Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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Sinuously constructed in four interlocking parts, Paul Auster's fifteenth novel opens in New York City in the spring of 1967, when twenty-year-old Adam Walker, an aspiring poet and student at Columbia University, meets the enigmatic Frenchman Rudolf Born and his silent and seductive girlfriend, Margot. Before long, Walker finds himself caught in a perverse triangle that leads to a sudden, shocking act of violence that will alter the course of his life.

Three different narrators tell the story of Invisible, a coming-of-age novel that travels in time from 1967 to 2007 and moves from Manhattan's Morningside Heights, to the Left Bank of Paris, to a remote island in the Caribbean. It is a book of youthful rage, unbridled sexual hunger, and a relentless quest for justice. With uncompromising insight, Auster takes us into the shadowy borderland between truth and memory, between authorship and identity, to produce a work of unforgettable power that confirms his reputation as "one of America's most spectacularly inventive writers." (The Times Literary Supplement (UK))


Praise for Invisible

"[Invisible] moves quickly, easily, somehow sinuously . . . The prose is contemporary American writing at its best: crisp, elegant, brisk. It has the illusion of effortlessness that comes only with fierce discipline. As often happens when you are in the hands of a master, you read the next sentence almost before you are finished with the previous one. The novel could be read shallowly, because it is such a pleasure to read . . . It's a love story, or a series of intertwined love stories, with one young man, Adam Walker, at the center of them all . . . Adam learns about love from four very different characters. There is Rudolf Born, the father figure, a domineering, elemental masculine force who is a professor but most likely also connected with the French or American intelligence underworld, and perhaps a savage killer (the novel relates a brutal murder that may or may not have taken place). There is Born's lover, a beautiful Frenchwoman named Margot, who is the classic older instructor of Adam as eager young pupil. In Paris, Adam meets at, an innocent, bookish girl, the daughter of a woman Born plans to marry: Cécile falls in love with Adam but the feeling is unreciprocated, so he comes to know that side of it. But how Adam truly climbs the ladder of ta erotika is with his sister, Gwyn. Adam is about to leave Columbia for a year abroad in Paris, but before he leaves, Adam and Gwyn play a little game they haven't tried since they were adolescents. 'So you test the waters cautiously, baby step by baby step, grazing your mouths against each other's necks, grazing your lips against each other's lips, but for many minutes you do not open your mouths, and although you have wrapped your arms around each other in a tight embrace, your hands do not move. A good half hour goes by, and neither one of you shows any inclination to stop. That is when your sister opens her mouth.' At the very heart of the book, at the end of Part 2—the novel is divided into four parts, using three narrators and four different narrative perspectives—Adam and Gwyn have a monthlong love affair (she later denies the affair ever happened) that permanently defines Adam's personality. It's five or 10 exceptionally beautiful, disturbing pages, and it is occasioned by their mourning the loss of a long-dead younger brother. But this is a love that really dares not speak its name, and it is the key to what is invisible in the novel. Love is always invisible, and in our world of hard-nosed materialists it's important to remember that our highest good is something we can never really see or grab hold of, much less understand by passing enough people through an f.M.R.I. machine to look at their brainwaves. What we take as the real world is not the world that matters most to us: the substance of our lives takes place in an invisible realm . . . One always hears the voices of philosophers in Auster's novels, though he keeps them hidden . . . Auster wants to pull the rug of realism out from beneath your feet so he can bring you a little closer to reality. But in Invisible the technique does not overwhelm the story. The characters are not placeholders for philosophical gambits, they are real people. We learn about them, we care about them, we worry about them, we want to know more about them . . . It is the finest novel Paul Auster has ever written."—Clancy Martin, The New York Times Book Review

"Paul Auster is best known as a writer of lean, genre-tinged novels whose unaffected prose belies their philosophical complexity. But he's also one of our most playful novelists, a lover of narrative labyrinths on par with Borges, to whom he has often been compared. For some, Auster's penchant for romantic irony is a distracting tic; for others, it's why they enjoy reading him in the first place. His latest novel, Invisible, finds him returning to the same thematic territory he has long occupied—the four-way intersection of memory, language, fate and self-discovery—with that playfulness very much intact. His subject here is the memoirist's subjective truth, and his object is to get us thinking about the ways in which it is constructed, edited and processed into what we think of as objective reality. In the first of the novel's four sections we meet Adam Walker, an undergraduate at Columbia University with writerly aspirations who likes to translate French verse in his free time. Already we think we can hear the hum of the metafictional machinery starting up: Walker reminds us not only of Marco Fogg, the hero of Auster's 1989 novel Moon Palace (same university, same proclivities) but also of Auster himself, who attended Columbia during the late 1960s and translated French poetry as he dreamed of becoming a writer . . . We may be headed once again into the hall of mirrors. Are we? Of course we are. As we learn of Adam's relationship with Rudolf Born, a supercilious Columbia professor, and Margot, Born's lover, everything reinforces our belief that we are reading a tale narrated in the first person by Adam, about events that have taken place in his past. In fact, as we learn in the next section, we have actually been reading a fragment of Adam's unpublished memoir—a fragment that is being shared with us by a successful novelist named James Freeman, who knew Adam when they attended Columbia together 40 years ago. Adam, now sick and dying, has asked his old friend to look at the chapter and share his opinion. When Freeman writes back encouragingly, Adam admits to him that he's having trouble continuing. Freeman responds by suggesting that Adam try writing the next section in a different narrative voice—the bifurcation of voices being a trick that had liberated Freeman from his own writer's block when composing his own memoir years earlier . . . We have traveled so deep into the hall of mirrors that we may be feeling dizzy. 'If I hadn't been told it was a true story, I probably would have plunged in and taken those sixty-plus pages for the beginning of a novel,' Freeman tells us . . . Later in the novel, Freeman becomes the editorial custodian of his old friend's uncompleted memoir. Auster's final bit of mischief is to make Freeman himself unsure as to what he's holding in his hands. Was Adam telling the truth about Rudolf Born? Was he making things up, projecting his own skittering subjective truth onto the stone tablet of objective reality? Freeman's only choice, he decides after consulting with Adam's sister and the other women in his life, is to publish the memoir under his own name, as a hybrid of fiction and memoir. (And his own name, it will come as no surprise, is not really James Freeman.) 'I sometimes confuse my thoughts about the world with the world itself,' says one character at the end of Invisible. 'I'm sorry if I offended you.' Some undoubtedly will be offended; you either enjoy the dizzy feeling you get from being lost in the funhouse, or you feel queasy and head for the exit. One hopes that, in this case, readers will stay for the duration. The pleasures found inside are well worth the labor required to uncover them. For good measure, Auster ends his novel with an image that seems borrowed from his 1990 novel The Music of Chance: people hard at work chiseling large stones into smaller ones—laboring, like readers, like writers, to reduce unwieldy, monolithic life into memories and stories that can be passed around and shared."—Jeff Turrentine, The Washington Post

"Paul Auster is a chilly, spooky writer. His characters find themselves trapped in Escher-like, psychological mazes. His worlds feel as though they're governed by outside forces with strange, inhuman ideas. Invisible, his 15th novel, is warmer and more human than the stuff he's famous for. It's still a cold book, but unlike in the novels of 'The New York Trilogy,' this chill resonates in the real world. In 1967, promising undergrad Adam Walker meets the mysterious Rudolf Born. Born gives the aspiring poet money to start a literary magazine, then practically arranges for him to sleep with Born's sophisticated French girlfriend. Then one day, Born commits cold-blooded murder right in front of his protege. Distraught over the moral outrage and his own lost innocence, Walker follows Born to Paris to exact punishment. The story is told in four parts, starting with a first-person novella that allows the reader to experience the violence through the narrator's eyes. The second is told in a bizarre, second-person singular, with 'you' substituted for 'I.' The third part, discovered on his computer after Walker dies, is told in a sketchy third person. In the fourth part, Jim, the friend to whom Walker sent his manuscripts, hunts down Celine, the woman who fell in love with Walker in Paris. The four sections form a sort of path—we move from 'I' to 'you' to 'he,' to the narrator's total absence from this world. Yet it's the most distant view that gives us a sense of what Born and Walker really were. Perhaps Auster is pulling one of his tricks—saying that editorial distance is a form of violence—but I think there's more. Vietnam looms over the entire book. Born's attitudes are very colonial; he's not only a vicious man, but he also claims to have learned his viciousness in Algeria, another French colony gone horribly wrong. This disjoint between American and contemporary colonial values warps both Walker's exterior world and his inner life. Born is Walker's poison, and the man never recovers. It's a photographic negative of the young American going abroad—Walker doesn't find himself, he loses himself . . . The boy grown old never regains his bearings, not even on his deathbed. He spends the next 40 years without discovering anything as fascinating or important as 1967, the one year Walker felt utterly alive. Yet this year was utterly horrible. In his desire to hurt Born, young Walker became a pint-size monster. Perhaps this is how vampires are really made—an older person violates a young person's innocence, and the youngster drops his sense of decency to fight his violator on the violator's own terms. Born frames Walker with heroin to get him kicked out of Paris, but this act may have been a kindness. Had he stayed, Walker might have become a smaller Born . . . [Auster's] spare, exact language has always reminded me of Mozart minus the emotional colors. He's a good read because he's confounding. Many writers are sure they've got the answers, but it's often more honest to admit there's no answer at all. The reason to read this book is that it's a startling tale of how a life can be wasted through being ruled by the past. Unlike in 'The New York Trilogy,' Auster dumps the reader into a real mess, not something contrived. The confusion of waking up one day to discover you're old, the harsh shock of middle-class Americans discovering that not everyone shares their values—these jolts to the system are part of life. This book is replete with Austerian hopelessness, but it's a hopelessness you can believe in. The dread in Invisible is real."—Laurel Maury, The San Francisco Chronicle

"Invisible is a book whose value is a function of its riskiness . . . A timely and relevant story for America's recent years of warfare and greed, a story of vicious souls and the corrosion they cause all around them."—Mark Athitakis, Chicago Sun-Times

"The most intricate metafictional exercise yet from the increasingly prolific Kafkaesque American modern."—Bruce Allen, The Washington Times

"Invisible feel especially viceral . . . A winningly ellipitical mystery that's at once textbook Auster and a satisfying departure."—Hank Shteamer, Time Out New York

"Auster's latest is a magnificent thistle of truths, half-truths, and myths that are painfully stuck to a tale about sex and ambition, love and death, revenge and ruin . . . Auster's story is dizzying in its treatment of perspective and truth in the act of storytelling . . . The results are revelatory."—Andrew Dansby, Houston Chronicle

"A Paul Auster book is like an old-fashioned page-turner that you bring everywhere you go so you can keep reading and reading. But while you may get lost in Auster's world, the experience also can be unnerving. This is part of his enormous appeal as a writer and the basis of his unique stature in American fiction . . . Auster has never been better, wielding spellbinding control over his writing. In Invisible, as in his other novels, Auster challenges the nature of fiction itself, rendering alternate dream worlds, any one of which could be considered 'real'. This is a different kind of omniscience; his characters and their stories are entirely plausible yet the reader is often in the dark, ceding clarity for a deeper truth: We can never really know what is in the minds of others."—David Takami, The Seattle Times

"[A] splendid new novel . . . Auster keeps us guessing, suspended between fiction and reality, with characters who suddenly change into different personalities, language that tries to plumb the depths of the human soul but comes up short, encounters seen and understood from different perspectives amid the sexual and conspiratorial connections spawned in New York, Paris, California, and Quillia. Ultimate answers are always out of reach, beyond language and one's conscious pursuit of unconscious compulsions and pursuits. We think we know people who, as in real life, suddenly transform themselves before our eyes, shift shapes and mutate into strangers, into alien beings whom we do not know at all . . . One of his best fictions yet."—Sam Coale, The Providence Journal

"Invisible contains many of the hallmarks of Auster's trade: formal literary devices and stylistic high jinks, psychological depth, elegant prose, and the manipulation of information, voices, and stories. Told against the background of 40 years of history, with shame and colonial guilt ever present, Invisible . . . is Auster's finest—and perhaps most accessible—novel to date."—Bookmarks Magazine

"If anyone could be considered an heir to Vladimir Nabokov's legendary narrative trickery, it would be Paul Auster—a master of literary illusion whose novels have long been lauded for their intricate puzzles and bold subversion of traditional narrative structure . . . [Invisible is] a searing, emotional bildungsroman . . . With an overwhelming, often totally shocking story, Auster brings in the most universal, most difficult themes—guilt, love, anger, family and friendship, to name just a few. Powerful not only in form but also in feeling, Invisible is truly a masterpiece—Auster's best, most complete effort in years."—Rebecca Shapiro, BookPage

"An absorbing literary thriller, my favorite Paul Auster novel to date. I read it aloud to my husband in installments on a road trip, and we were caught up in the mystery's unfolding all the way to the final scenes."—Jane Ciabattari, NPR

"In this erotic, archly philosophical thriller, Auster, seductive and masterly, pilots readers from New York to Paris to California to a fortresslike island in the Caribbean, as he slyly contrasts the subtle pleasures of the mind with the wildness of the body, and delves into the repercussions of guilt, the unfathomable power of desire, and the insidious consequences of narcissism and debauchery. With fascinating characters, a spiraling structure, and a Heart of Darkness-like conclusion, this is a sublimely suspenseful, insightful, and disquieting novel."—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

"In his latest, Auster is in classic form . . . With crisp, taut prose, Auster pushes the tension and his characters' peculiar self-awareness to their limits, giving Walker a fractured, knowing quality that doesn't always hold. The best moments from Walker's disparate, disturbing coming-of-age come in lush passages detailing Walker's conflicted, incestuous love life (paramount to his education as a human being, but a violation of his self-made promise to live as an ethical human being). As the plot moves toward a Heart of Darkness–style journey into madness, the limits of Auster's formalism become more apparent, but this study of a young poet doomed to life as a manifestation of poetry carries startling weight."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Paul Auster

Paul Auster is the bestselling author of Sunset Park, Invisible, Man in the Dark, Travels in the Scriptorium, The Brooklyn Follies, and Oracle Night. I Thought My Father Was God, the NPR National Story Project anthology, which he edited, was a national bestseller. His work has been translated into thirty-five languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Lotte Hansen

Paul Auster

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