Book of illusions
Paul Auster Faber & Faber, 205pp, £16.99
It’s odd to learn that as sparse a prose stylist as Paul Auster believes his poetry could be the best work he has ever written. Yet, here it is: his claim is faithfully recounted in Norman Finkelstein’s introduction.
Auster, a novelist, screenwriter and now film director, started out as a poet, and many of the works
in this volume pre-date City of Glass (1980), the first novel in his most successful fiction series, The New York Trilogy. The new collection includes jottings from a 20-year-old Auster, graduate works from the 1970s, and translations of French poets such as André Breton and René Char.
It’s all quite spare and difficult to begin with, bearing similarities to the 20th-century American poets Charles Olson and George Oppen. Less patient readers benefit from a few biographical clues, and these are included in the introduction: the Auster family home was close to a quarry, Paul attended Columbia University in the late 1960s and lived in France.
At the very least, the poems are dazzling clues to the inner workings of some of Auster’s more autobiographical characters, such as Quinn, Fanshawe and Marco Fogg. At best, these delicate, elliptical verses bear reading and rereading, even if you’re never quite sure you understand them entirely.