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Friday, December 30, 2005

Brooklyn Boys

Have just finished reading Paul Auster’s The Brooklyn Follies, and found it warmer and more character-driven than his earlier books. Unfortunately, traces of the mischievous postmodern Auster still remain -- for example, the central character is at work on a volume he calls “The Book of Human Folly”, and there’s a chapter that starts with an authorial intrusion, followed only by chunks of dialogue. These come across as tacked-on; indeed, Follies would have been much stronger had it been told straight. Then, of course, there’s the very in-your-face ploy of having the book end on the morning of 9/11, underlining the obvious – that what came before is an essentially nostalgic and affectionate look at human foibles and desires, something that belongs to the past, as the world is now altered forever.

What is it with these boys from Brooklyn and their clever conceits? Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude comes to mind: a well-written and extremely evocative Brooklyn bildungsroman, it suffered because of some silly incidents involving superheroes and rings that enable you to fly.

It’s not that one is against postmodern musings, magic realism and pop culture in novels. (Playing with ideas of identity and subverting genres have served Auster well in The New York Trilogy, for instance.) It’s just that in both of these works, there’s something deeper and more consequential which keeps getting held back by such tics.

Oh dear. Perhaps it’s just that one has been reading too much James Wood.


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