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Book Reflections – Oracle Night by Paul Auster

Book cover – Oracle Night

I’ve only previously read Timbuktu by Paul Auster and I’ve heard that he’s a good author so as I quickly browsed the impressive range of English language novels at Trondheim library, I grabbed Oracle Night. From the beginning the book hooked me. In most paragraphs I fought the urge to rush on and instead I went back and reread sentences to make sure that I grasped it properly. I love the lavish use of footnotes! Auster gives vignettes in his footnotes that can run for 5 pages. 

How red the blood looked against the whiteness of the porcelain sink, I thought. How vividly imagined that color was, how aesthetically shocking. The other fluids that cane out of us were dull in comparison… We excreted autumn and winter colors, but running invisibly through our veins, the very stuff that kept us alive, was the crimson of a mad artist – a red as brilliant as fresh paint. 

We follow author Sidney Orr as he recovers from a mysterious but serious illness and re-enters his life as a writer. By chance Orr buys a Portuguese note book that feels perfect to him and entrances him to write feverishly. He writes about a character (Nick Bowen) like himself who is a publisher and receives a manuscript and is triggered to run away from his comfortable wife and not very satisfactory marriage to Kansas. 

I enjoyed the stories within the story as much as the main story, perhaps more and I can’t forgive Auster and his protagonist Sidney Orr for not writing Nick Bowen out of his dark prison. 
Orr goes on to write a framework for a film script that is just as captivating and just as tantalising because we never get to read anything more from it. Is it cheating for Auster to write about writing and put snippets of his unpublished works into a novel? I enjoyed it either way. 

There are so many elements to this story that when I could see that less than 20% was remaining I was concerned about how Auster would satisfactorily close the book without skimping on some aspects. I did find the ending believable and satisfactory but I also feel that Auster rushed it to an end that was less brilliant than the beginning. The long term love affair and death were a bit too convenient and Grace wasn’t conflicted enough about her reprehensible behaviour. Jacob was over the top and I didn’t understand why he was in the book. Was it just to cause chaos in Sidney and Grace’s life? 

Chang is a very interesting character and a few times I wondered whether Auster is racist against Chinese people or just chose easy stereotypes for Chang to be tied up with shady dealings with sex workers in an illegal joint at the back of a sweat shop or Mao’s red guard. I was perplexed about why Chang attacked Sidney but maybe it was Auster’s way of stopping Orr from getting more of the mysteriously powerful Portuguese writing books. 

Is it ok for me to say that I don’t want to read anything more about the Holocaust? I’ve read a lot of books that touch on it or centre around it and I was disappointed that Auster repeatedly brought it into his novel set in New York City in the late 20th century. I will never feel clean again after a horrifying visit to Auschwitz death camp. I sobbed at the museum of Polish rising. Now I don’t want to read about it anymore. I’m ok with reading about Stalin’s (my great grandfather died at Katyn) or Mao’s massive extermination campaigns or atrocities in African, latin American or Asian dictatorships or the genocide campaign that the Israelis are perpetrating now over the Palestinians but I’m sick of the continued attention that is given to the Holocaust. Can’t we move on? As my brilliant friend said at book group: 

Enough books about the Holocaust. Read the Hare with Amber Eyes and you’ll never need to read another book about it. 

I did read that excellent book and she was right. Halas. Basta. Enough. 

The Guardian offers a good review of the book here.

A more to-the-point reviews than mine can be read here and here

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3 comments on “Book Reflections – Oracle Night by Paul Auster

  1. Cathy746books
    December 4, 2016

    I’m a big fan of Auster’s writing and love his twisty meta narratives. Glad you enjoyed this one.

    • strivetoengage
      December 13, 2016

      Thanks for reading my vague ramblings. I noticed that Auster was in your top 10 authors in terms of number of titles in your collection. Have you read Oracle Night? Which is the best Auster in your opinion?

      • Cathy746books
        December 13, 2016

        I love The Music of Chance and Mr Vertigo, but New York Trilogy is hard to beat.

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This entry was posted on December 4, 2016 by in Books & Ideas and tagged , , , , , , .
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