Paul Auster makes little distinction between fictional and real life stories. His literary world is a scrapbook in which anyone's biography can be pastedby Emran Mian / December 17, 2005 / Leave a comment
The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster (Faber, £16.99)
I don’t think there is any contemporary writer who gets as much fun out of naming his characters as Paul Auster. The three main characters in his new novel are called Wood, Glass (nephew and uncle—resembling respectively the two sides of the family) and Brightman (real name: Dunkel, meaning dark). But the naming isn’t only for fun.
Nathan Glass is the narrator of the book and the compiler of the Follies. He moves to Brooklyn “looking for a quiet place to die” after a career in insurance. The Follies are a collection of notes and anecdotes that he keeps in boxes on his desk. An example of one of Nathan’s own follies is an evening spent trying to retrieve his daughter’s electric shaver after she drops it in the only toilet in the house shortly before a dinner party.
He bumps into his nephew, Tom Wood, working in Harry Brightman’s antiquarian bookstore. Tom’s mother—Nathan’s sister—is dead, and uncle and nephew haven’t seen each other in years. After they’ve caught up, Tom also tells his uncle about his sister, Aurora, known as Rory, who left town to marry the bass guitarist of a band she was singing in. Tom prayed that this man “whose name also happened to be Tom, wasn’t as stupid as he looked.”
Auster just lets the name coincidence hang. Yet we know that Auster cares about naming and so what are we supposed to conclude? Was Rory in love with her brother? He’d just been kind to her, taking her in after she’d had a set of horrific experiences working in modelling and then the porn industry. Was she looking for an echo of him, an echo that she could take away with her because her brother himself wouldn’t go? Or did the coincidence force her to decide, with added agony, that this second Tom was worth leaving her brother for? Auster doesn’t favour one conclusion over another but, through the act of naming creates an aperture for the reader to frame these thoughts, to think harder about the sister and her decision to leave.
It may seem odd to focus on this one act of naming but then this is a book of miniatures. There are not only the Follies filed on Nathan’s desk but the events of the narrative. It is like a scrapbook of Nathan’s…