Saturday, 3 September 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - Sunset Park by Paul Auster

Paul Auster is one of the few novelist that I read everything they write. His novels tend to fall into 2 types. There is the good old fashioned story telling like Mr Vertigo and The Brooklyn Follies , then there is the high concept, post modern stylised books such as the New York Trilogy and Oracle Night. While the later are often intellectually interesting their sparse clean style can at times leave me a little cold (Travels in the Scriptorium being the worst case)

Sunset Park is of the former, a straight forwardish story with diversions into the forgotten heroes of baseball, the film The Best years of Our Lives , erotic drawings and the mechanics of publishing, some more interesting than others

The theme of broken families that appears in a lot of Auster's books is central to Sunset Park. The book starts by focusing on educated and privileged Miles who feeling responsible for the death of his step brother has left the family home and cut off all contact with his parents and their relevant spouses. We get a sense of both his guilt and feeling of restleness, following him as he starts a relationship and begins to learn to love again. There are the quirky details that are present in Auster's best books for example Miles's hobby of photographing "lost" things that he finds in houses the team he belongs to are sent to clear. It is in these details that his writing is at its best, linking a small quirk to a wider theme.

So far the story is told from Mile's perspective but when he suddenly has to return to his home city of New York and ends up living in a squat , this changes. We are then introduced to his housemates and his parents with each chapter moving the narrative forward but from one characters' perspective. On one level this works well especially in the chapters told from his parents perspective that lead up to an eventual reunion.

However, this technique also includes his 3 house mates in the squat, Bing who is the unofficial house leader, damaged and frustrated artist Ellen and Alice stuck in a stale relationship,struggling with her thesis. At this point all the fleshed out back stories start to confuse and too many diversions end in cul de sacs which leave you thinking what was the point of that.

It all leads to the feeling that there will be a "big" ending but the end set piece is so under played and so many loose ends are left hanging that whilst the journey was interesting the destination was a bit of a let down


  1. Auster invariably does that; you anticipate the destination and wind up in a lay bye on a B road 5 miles from home; frustrated but intrigued.
    Just about to read this on my new Kindle. I tried to resist. Just back from holidays so enjoyed the latest James Lee Burke, some Colum McCann, The Sky and the Wilderness Rick Bass, and finally read South of the Border West of the Sun. Only mis step was John McGregor's 'If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things' which I just couldn't roll with...

  2. Thanks trev - i'll look into these. I agree re If Nobody ... couldnt see what all the fuss was about


Leave a comment and let me know what you are listening to.