A reviewer for The Guardian is claiming that Paul Auster’s new memoir, Winter Journal, is not only a complete waste of time, but also displays a brackish narcissism that makes Auster look like a nincompoop.
The reviewer, J. Robert Lennon, is mightily unimpressed by Auster’s attempt to capture some of the mundanity of his life. Listen to Lennon’s recap of some writing that makes Auster seem like he belongs in Special Ed, or at least in the Department of Obvious Observations:
A robin, he explains, is “the brown, red-breasted bird who would suddenly and unaccountably show up in your backyard one morning, hopping around on the grass and digging for worms”. Later, he meditates on the subject of walking: “one foot forward, and then the other foot forward”. On public schools: “everyone who lives in the district can go for free.” And on death: “We are all going there.”
Poor Auster. I kinda liked him. In college, I read The New York Trilogy, which I enjoyed, even though it seemed designed to baffle. My teacher described Auster’s oeuvre, in typical academic jargon, as a “meditation on the ontology of repetition,” whatever that means.
Historically, critics have blasted Auster for “reusing his favourite literary devices from novel to novel,” says Lennon. Apparently, every Auster novel is a thinly-disguised imitation of its forbears. To say that Auster has a hard time coming up with spicy newness is a foregone conclusion.
I’m just sad Auster’s latest spanking had to be so public and so forceful. Usually, reviewers cloak their dissatisfaction in diplomatic broadsides. They hem and haw, dancing around the more direct accusations of buffoonery. But Lennon goes straight for the jugular. Listen to his remorseless thwacking of Auster’s writing:
Winter Journal is a terrible book – the kind of self-indulgent, ill-conceived, and poorly-edited disaster that makes you doubt whether or not you could truly have liked the works that preceded it.
Maybe the cultural divide between Brits and Yanks can explain what I’m interpreting as pretty strong language here. Maybe the memoir is truly as godawful as Lennon makes it out to be.
Contrary to what Lennon might want you to believe, Auster has some respectable material. As I mentioned earlier, The New York Trilogy is pretty decent. And Smoke, a 1995 film written by Auster, is a solid undertaking.
And, really, if what you get when you read one Paul Auster book is a simulation of all his others, you don’t even have to read extra books! That’s what I call a value-pack, folks.