Thursday 2 May 2024

Paul Auster: Gone

                                        “Stories only happen to those who are able to tell them.”

Paul Auster: gone. He likely wrote his own epitaph: “To leave the world a little better than you found it. That's the best a man can ever do.” More a Gillette ad than a eulogy, but apt. He's alongside Raymond Carver and Richard Ford as my 'go to' American writer. ‘Moon Palace’, ‘Book of Illusions’, ‘Music of Chance’. My favourite is always the one that I’m reading. His manner was lofty but worldly; a spidery intellect, wonky enough to be lovable. His style is impossible to bottle. This morning I’ll go for ‘wide-eyed and squinting!’ That'd be a poet’s eye: one that fuelled a forensic mind; and yet he clutched the inquisitiveness of childhood like a beloved balloon.

"If nothing else, the years have taught me this: if there’s a pencil in your pocket, there’s a good chance that one day you’ll feel tempted to start using it. As I like to tell my children, that’s how I became a writer."

Funny yet fathom deep, his playful tales are frequented by ‘chance’. And lost chances. Flighty thoughts imbue core truths. Auster’s observations are often so startlingly simple that you catch yourself rereading, just to be sure of their directness. “It was. It will never be again. Remember.” Strewth! And then he mangles meaning and encourages you to rebuild it: from cloud to clarity. We are offered cyphers and codes, mysteries and clues. And as we grapple for understanding, the blissful reconciliation of concept and conceit is the mischief that engages. Narratives bounce between impenetrable Kafkaesque fables (City of Glass) and rattling good yarns (Book of Illusions); the stumbling protagonists as unreliable as memory and the stories that carry them. He taught me much about the writing process: the compulsions and the contradictions. “We find ourselves only by looking at what we are not.” And what was he not? At 77 he seemed ageless: tireless in his pursuit. And what was that? Perhaps Paul put it best here: Why Write?

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