Faber & Faber, £18.99 or Order at a discount from The Independent Bookshop

Book review: Report from the Interior, By Paul Auster

A memoir that takes the reader on an inward journey, but arrives at a familiar destination

The tendency to meditate on the past is not a habit Paul Auster has acquired in his older, riper years. He was taking internal audits and reflecting on what made him the writer he was from the start.

Get this book at the discounted price of The Independent Bookshop or call 0843 0600 030

A memoir, The Invention of Solitude, partly about the death of his father, was published before the fiction debut, The New York Trilogy, that found him fame. More blending of experience with literary inquiry followed: The Art of Hunger (on his writing processes) The Red Notebook (true stories gathered from his life) Hand to Mouth (on early writerly struggles) and then, last year, Winter's Journal, a reflection on the physical memories of childhood.

Now this, a psychological mapping of childhood and young adulthood, written using the second person viewpoint that he began with in Winter's Journal. He starts at around the same age that we encountered him in that previous book, aged six, with the cold indifference he feels emanating between his parents, the subtle but unshakeable feeling of alienation that his Jewishness carries in his New Jersey neighbourhood, to his wilderness years in Paris as an aspiring novelist, poet, translator and scriptwriter, so penurious at times that he went without eating, or – quite literally – singing for his supper, with begging bowl and hungry friends.

Some of this material appears recycled and recombined – particularly his story of financial hardship and creative struggle, which is not a problem in itself if new light is being shed. Therein lies the problem. Auster has excelled at taking small, ordinary incidents – a misunderstanding, a coincidence, a seemingly slight but enduring injury, and turning it in a quietly striking or uncanny moment.

Perhaps because this stylistic approach is, by now, such a well-rehearsed method, it ceases to be impactful. More needs to be done, more processed in the prose, if these 'ordinary' moments are to appear little more than descriptive. There is a flatness, even a syrupy banality, to the gentle anecdotes at the opening – that as a child he thought "human being" was pronounced as "human bean", that while reading at eight he would stumble over the word "fatigue", that among his favourite books as a boy was A J Cronin's The Citadel "which temporarily made you want to be a doctor, as well as Green Mansions, by W H Hudson, which teased your gonads with its exotic, jungle sensuality…"

Worse follows in passages that unravel into longueurs when he analyses films that affected his younger self. A blow by blow account is given of The Incredible Shrinking Man, and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, across two chapters that summarise plot and camera work. The fascination with describing the mechanics of film-making previously appeared in his novel, Sunset Park, in which a character studied films, and just as it did then, so here it reads like a student thesis.

The strengths of Auster's memories come in occasional sparks, particularly in his discussions of his Jewishness. His early quest to become a writer is also fascinating: the self-imposed isolation it brings, the wretched lows and the depression but also the inner satisfaction from his dogged and monkish dedication.

The latter part of the book revolves around letters written to Lydia Davis, the now-acclaimed writer who was then his girlfriend and would later become his first wife. Letter-writing, like memoir writing, comes with the danger of solipsism – a word Auster himself uses in one letter to Davis – and in this book, Auster does not manage to avoid its curse.

Unilluminating experience tries to appear special, rarefied, and too many anecdotes are anti-climactic. It is sad to see that the ordinary moments Auster chooses to describe are not made more remarkable in their telling any more. In fact, reading latter-day Auster can, to a former-day Auster fan, inspire comparison with that other beloved New Yorker, Woody Allen. This book is certainly no Match Point – God forfend – but it does not display the autumnal creative resurgence of Blue Jasmine either.

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss