Faber £16.99

Invisible, By Paul Auster

A man takes his time reacting to a stabbing. The literary tricks mean it feels even longer...

After a run of books with increasingly decrepit protagonists, Paul Auster's 13th novel returns to a highly recognisable "young Auster" cipher and some metafictional gamesmanship.

Adam Walker is a literature student at Columbia with French fluent enough to translate medieval Provençal verse. An aspiring poet, Walker is strapped for cash but avoiding his affluent parents; despite a successful New Jersey business, his family has been dysfunctional since the accidental death in childhood of Adam's younger brother. It's 1967, and his college ambition, as much as anything in this impoverished period of life, is to beat the draft.

This latter hope is one Walker lamely admits to Rudolf Born, a visiting tutor whose partner, Margot, latches on to Walker's retiring presence at a party. Margot is plain, silent, intense; Born is fiery, confident and disconcerting and, with their acquaintance scarcely defrosted, offers Walker the enormous sum of $25,000 to set up a literary magazine.

This typical piece of Austerish serendipity leads swiftly to prickly exchanges, political harangues, seduction and the ethical hangover of betrayal before, one evening, Born and Walker take a stroll, only to be mugged. Born reacts with a blade to the assailant's stomach. Walker runs for help but returns to find nothing: the mugger's body is found in a nearby park with a dozen wounds and, a week later, Born, after a threatening missive to an anguished, dithering Walker, flees to France.

This sudden drama closes the first section of Invisible, whose four parts each culminate in some form of flight following a shocking or claustrophobic encounter. This goads the pace of a plot otherwise freighted with cumbersome literary baggage. Part two, for example, reveals this breathless opening adventure to be the first instalment of a confession that the 60 year-old Walker, dying of leukaemia, is writing to expunge his guilt over failing to have Born arrested for murder back in 1967. The remainder of Invisible is made up from Walker's unfinished manuscripts and notes pieced together by an old Columbia colleague and successful novelist.

Structurally, Invisible has plenty of incident: affairs, incest, a sojourn in Paris trying to take revenge against Born. Thematically, however, it is more diffuse. Are Walker's memories reliable? Was Born guilty? Both questions intrigue; both are left hanging. By dressing up Walker as his own younger self, Auster reinforces the sense that Invisible is another novel of storytelling and interpretation rather than narrative entertainment. Layering his plot with one fictional author curating another's prose creates distance but also confusion. "By writing about myself in the first person," Walker's novelist colleague advises him, "I had made myself invisible, had made it impossible for me to find the thing I was looking for." Walker takes this advice, turning to second- (rather wearying) and third-person narratives, but quite what Auster is seeking to eclipse or reveal remains unclear: not catharsis for Walker, nor natural justice for Born; not (so far as I can tell) a reappraisal of Auster's salad years. Nor does any of this yield satisfaction for the reader.

Auster has always been highly present in his fictions, stamping them with his fluent, idiosyncratic style, his characters' reduced existences and psychological uncertainties. Where Invisible falls down is that its narrative strands are not sufficiently developed to engage, but the deliberately congested authorship, which seems the novel's greater emphasis, remains self-referential and unrewarding.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • 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.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence