Once upon an evening…

“I had been sick for a long time.”

Compelled to pick up this book in a Waterstone’s, (the one on Oxford Street, I think) I must’ve been overcome by the same feeling as the narrator who also finds himself attracted to a certain book. I have only read Paul Auster once before, The New York Trilogy over a year ago, but I enjoyed the twisted nature of his writing and how it captivated me with a rare sort of magic. I thought I’d try him again, and while this one was very different, it was no less of a good read.

This is the story of Sidney Orr, a novelist who is recovering from a serious illness that doctors didn’t think he was going to survive. He is now pulling back and defying the odds and part of his recovery process involves him taking daily walks out through Brooklyn. On September 18th 1982, he is on one of his walks when he enters a stationery shop that he’s never seen before. He finds himself with an urge to stock up on new writing supplies but, after befriending the owner M. R. Chang, leaves with just one item – a blue hardback notebook made by some Portuguese company that has since folded. He cannot explain his attraction to the book, but feels that he needs it.

The book then consumes him and his life for the next nine days as he begins to pen a new story. Inside that story, too, is yet another story. Meanwhile, in the real world, his marriage is beginning to become strained, one of his closest friends has become ill and Chang is proving to be a very strange companion indeed.

As I said, the story has various layers but the transitions between Auster’s book, Orr’s story and his hero, Nick’s, manuscript, are so smooth that they naturally slide into one another without causing too much difficulty to the reader. There’s a dark undercurrent here, and sometimes it breaks up through the surface with considerable force, but it’s generally quite a light-hearted novel with themes of how the past, present and future interact, the mystical power of the written word and the idea of walking out on one’s life and the implications that can have. It’s written from the point of view of Sidney Orr twenty years after the events, and we find out very little about his life then, if anything. There are a few threads that are left hanging, but that allows for the reader’s own interpretation of events.

Very interesting.