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November 15, 2009

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Auster at his best with 'Invisible'

AS soon as you finish Paul Auster's "Invisible" you want to read it again. And not because, as sometimes with his novels - as with the novels of Georges Perec, one of a handful of other real authors mentioned in the book - you suddenly suspect, at the very end, that you haven't properly understood a word of what has gone before.

You want to reread "Invisible" because it moves quickly, easily, somehow sinuously, and you worry that there were good parts that you read right past, insights that you missed.

It has the illusion of effortlessness that comes only with fierce discipline. As often happens when you are in the hands of a master, you read the next sentence almost before you are finished with the previous one. The novel could be read shallowly, because it is such a pleasure to read.

I was not a fan of Auster's last few books. "Invisible" is his 15th novel, and I was afraid that this would be, as I felt with his recent work, another instance of Auster playing Auster - a kind of arch exercise in the clever but cloying metaphysics of textual irony.

But "Invisible" suggests a new Auster. It's a love story, or a series of intertwined love stories, with Adam Walker at the center of them all. It's 1967, and we learn on the first page that Adam is "a second-year student at Columbia," a "know-nothing boy with an appetite for books and a belief (or delusion) that one day I would become good enough to call myself a poet."

Freud once claimed that our greatest frustration was that we could never kiss ourselves - well, Auster has knotted the pretzel, he has brought his two loves together. So if, like me, part of why you read is the great pleasure of falling in love with a novel, then read "Invisible." It is the finest novel Paul Auster has ever written.


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