Newest Review: ... of a person's life are major themes here. What Auster isn't interested in is the pain of abandonment, it's always more about the strug... more
Leviathan - Paul Auster
Member Name: Mephit
Leviathan - Paul Auster
Advantages: thoughtful, clever, absorbing
Disadvantages: bit self-indulgent at times
When I had children, however, I lost patience with some of his themes - often the dissolution of a man's life, where the part of the process is walking out on a child and partner, one way or another. It seemed self-indulgent to me. So it has been a long time since I read much Auster. I was looking over my shelves for something to read recently, when this book, 'Leviathan' seemed ripe for a re-read.
*** The Storyline ***
The narrator is Peter Aaron, an author, who is writing an account of what happened to make his friend, Benjamin Sachs, leave his comfortable life as a fellow writer and start blowing up statues.
Sachs has died, currently unidentified, as a result of one of his own homemade bombs and Aaron has had a visit from the FBI after they found his phone number with the body.
There is a sense of urgency behind Aaron's writing, as he feels sure that it is only a matter of time before the FBI return and he will lose his control of the story of Sachs' life.
*** Themes ***
Of course, disappearance and dissolution of a person's life are major themes here. What Auster isn't interested in is the pain of abandonment, it's always more about the struggle of the individual, and the people left behind are strangely stoical and willing to wait.
Auster's fascination with detective fiction recurs here, with perhaps the most over-arching part, Aaron piecing together Sachs' story: the writer as detective. He references the research, the interviews that a writer would do to create a biographical piece, alongside the work a detective might do. At times the characters flirt with the idea of hiring detectives and they also engage in detective work themselves, sometimes out of whim and sometimes out of a need to know.
There is doubling - the two authors and their different paths, their relationships, their friendships. Also, for example, at one point Aaron follows Sachs secretly, unaware that someone else is also following Sachs and watching Aaron's pursuit.
There is coincidence and the idea of particular people having lynchpin roles in each other's lives, without realising or intending it. One of these is Peter Aaron himself, who brings several of the players together, another is Maria, who is perhaps the greatest of these.
There's a lot going on, with intertextuality, references to great American authors, such as Thoreau. The better read will get a lot more out of this - I'm not particularly knowledgeable about US literature.
Auster plays with identity, notably using his own initials for the character narrating. Also Sachs' sense of self has been badly shaken by events, and much of what occurs is the result of him trying to re-establish a sense of who he is. That the novel is named after the book that Sachs was supposedly writing before his disappearance blurs things further - Aaron tells the reader he intends to call it that too
Another of the big themes is about the nature of writing itself, with the two main characters as writers. The character of Aaron wonders over how people's perspectives vary and how two people's accounts of the same event can contradict yet still be their own truth. He accepts the unreliability of their narrative voices, and hints to the reader of his own unreliability - after all, he is piecing Sachs' story together out of his own memories and interpretations, and at times points out he may be wrong or that he is picking the explanation that suits him better.
*** My thoughts ***
I really enjoyed re-reading this book: it gave me a lot to think about and reminded me of why I did a degree in literature (many moons ago).
The story is interesting and you want to know why Sachs did the things he did. It's told in a slightly shifting way, through Aaron's account of other people's experiences as well as his own memories, and not always in a straightforward linear way - he follows different strands at times before winding them in together.
Ultimately the answers aren't always satisfying, as in life. You become more aware of what isn't known or knowable. If you like things neatly resolved, then Auster isn't really the author for you. This book is more about the attempt to understand another person than necessarily succeeding in doing so.
It's a clever book, more about ideas than emotions. I have to say that for a while Auster really did pall on me, but that seems to have passed. I'm regretting again the loss of the several other novels of his I had, which were in a box of books that got misplaced a couple of house moves ago.
'Leviathan' is available in paperback new at £4.19 from Amazon, currently, or for Kindle at £3.98. You may be able to find it cheaper secondhand.
Summary: Interesting outing for Auster