Posted by: bluelion | March 14, 2017

Let’s read… 4 3 2 1

[Note: There are no spoilers in this review but there are some major ones in the interview linked at the text “as it turns out”]

I finished reading Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1 a couple of days ago and I thoroughly miss reading about the various Fergusons.  It was unusual for an Auster book in that it was not unusual. The original idea was, but the various lives themselves were very realistic, painted against a background of real mid-20th century American history.

It was released just before his 70th birthday (Ferguson’s birthday is exactly one month after Auster’s). His first novel in seven years is an autobiography that is not an autobiography at all (he says he only shares his geography and chronology with the Fergusons – and some major life events, as it turns out). With expected and totally unexpected turns. With and without explanations. Countless references, to other works of his own and to world literature, movies and songs. A comprehensive reading list of a classical education. The what ifs we all wonder about sometimes. It is a great novel. It’s monumental, sophisticated and elaborate.

I realized on the first pages what a great pleasure it is to read these beautiful sentences, these perfectly chosen words. I stopped and thought about the many mediocre or even bad works I’ve been reading lately realizing this is what an extraordinary work looks (sounds, reads) like. My words are not even doing him any justice.

At first, I was thinking about making notes to be able to follow which story is currently unfolding but then decided to let Auster guide me, to see if he can do that. Of course he could. The recaps are done very subtly and in time, the transitions are brilliant at times. It was very lifelike but sometimes a character stood up from a chair and I was agitated to find out what will happen next. I loved how some characters returned in more than one versions of Ferguson’s life, playing somewhat similar, somewhat different parts. I loved how narration followed all the various stages of Ferguson’s life – childhood, early school years, teens and young adulthood, becoming more and more complex as the protagonist developed.

It’s been quite a while since I last read Auster before 4 3 2 1 but I remember worlds based on reality but not entirely real. Something like what he himself describes in this book:

To combine the strange with the familiar: that was what Ferguson aspired to, to observe the world as closely as the most dedicated realist and yet to create a way of seeing the world through a different, slightly distorting lens, for reading books that dwelled only on the familiar inevitably taught you things you already knew, and reading books that dwelled only on the strange taught you things you didn’t need to know […]
(loc7775)

In that, this is not a typical Auster book, not in its length either. But it is brilliant, elaborate, witty, surprising, inspiring and even disturbing at times. Good luck to the translators, it’s going to be quite a challenge.

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