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Man in the DarkMan in the Dark by Paul Auster

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Escaping into a film is not like escaping into a book. Books force you to give something back to them, to exercise your intelligence and imagination, where as you can watch a film-and even enjoy it-in a state of mindless passivity.”

It is my opinion that Paul Auster gets better with age. Whether that’s his age or mine I’ve not quite decided, but I’m finding him a lot more agreeable the older I get. I first met him in the acclaimed ‘The New York Trilogy‘; a book I fiercely wished I could like, but found I couldn’t because of all the disjointedness and the loose ends of plot he kept leaving artfully around for my poor brain to trip up on.

Anyway, the long and short of it is, I could smell a good thing was there and that my brain needed a bit more ripening, so I made a mental note to come back to Auster. Good job I did as well. After ‘The New York Trilogy’ I did what I normally do with fiction/ fiction writers I find hard to get into: try out a shorter work instead. So I indulged in ‘Travels in the Scriptorium‘ (excellent!) and now ‘Man in the Dark’, which I found electrifying.

One thing to remember is, when writing fiction, Auster can’t help but write ABOUT fiction as well. This must be a theme he loves returning to because both ‘Travels in the Scriptorium’ and ‘Man in the Dark’ have elements of ‘when fiction invades life’.

There is a decidedly Borgian element to ‘Man in the Dark’, mainly because it is a short narrative that harbours the seeds of a much larger one within it. There is a ‘story within a story’ thing happening here, parallel worlds that threaten to break through the thin membrane separating reality and imagination.

August Brill is an elderly man who is recovering from a car accident. He also suffers from severe insomnia, which compels him to make up stories to pass the time. One character, Owen Brick, becomes a fictional alter ego of sorts, and the world he occupies is an eerie place where history is re-written to create an alternative history. In Bricks’ world, America is a battleground as civil war ensues and fellow citizens kill each other relentlessly. The chapters alternate between Brill and Brick seamlessly and there is an overarching ’emptiness’ that unites or rather binds them together. For Brill this is the void left behind by the passing of his wife and his own general loneliness as an elderly man. For Brick, it is the frightening fear of waking up from a coma and not knowing who he is, where he is and more importantly what the hell he is doing there in the first place.

For those finding Auster difficult I highly recommend this short novel. If any of the themes in this review interest you then ‘Travels in the Scriptorium’ by the same author or ‘Point Omega’ by Don Delillo are equally as good (and short!)

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