Review – Man in the Dark by Paul Auster

“There’s no single reality, Corporal.  There are many realities.  There’s no single world.  There are many worlds, and they all run parallel to one another, worlds and anti-worlds, worlds and shadow-worlds, and each world is dreamed or imagined or written by someone in another world.  Each world is the creation of a mind.” (69)

Man in the Dark by Paul Auster appeals to every single one of my sensibilities.  I read The Book of Illusions by Auster a few years ago and really enjoyed it.  It wasn’t my favorite book of the year, but it convinced me so thoroughly of its characters that I’m still not totally convinced that they aren’t real.  I have decided that that is Auster’s strength.  Everything about this book is all in August Brill’s head.  He was injured in an accident not too long ago and finds himself spending hours and hours in his bed, sleepless, imagining stories for himself so he doesn’t have to think so much about the past.  But eventually he does, and he will.

I should not be disappointed by Man in the Dark, because it did everything it promised me it would.  There are no surprises here, really.  Everything the jacket said it would do, it delivered.  The first part of the book goes back and forth between Brill’s own narrative and the narrative he tells himself at night when he’s trying to sleep.  This story is an alternative history where George W. Bush won the 2000 election, but then New York seceded, starting a second civil war.  The world has had a completely different history: September 11 never happened, New York and the states that followed it have a prime minister, and the war rages on with no indication that it will end.  Until Brill imagines Owen Brick, a man from his own world who wakes up in this alternative world and must stop it, by killing August Brill in the real world.  And I know that sounds really complicated, but this book is not, and that’s my biggest disappointment.

This book is smart, don’t get me wrong.  The whole time it’s doing something that you don’t even realize, but I wanted there to be something more.  I wanted the narratives to fall in on one another, like they kind of do in The  Book of Illusions, I wanted there to be a revelation at the end.   I wanted something to happen.  But this is a quiet book.  I think I have pinpointed the problem: the dust jacket describes the book as shocking.  There is nothing shocking about this book.  The book is honest, yes, but unless I missed something honesty isn’t the only qualification for shocking.

What this book does well is quietly explore.  Brill lives with his daughter and granddaughter, all of them living with their personal grief relative to their significant others.   They are a broken family, but they are growing and grieving together, slowly healing.  That is what’s beautiful about this novel, it’s subtlety.  And no, it wasn’t what I wanted or what I expected, but it ended up being better for it.  It could have been an exciting alternative history novel and sure, I would have enjoyed it, but I would have missed the wonderful meta-quality of Man in the Dark. So, yes, I recommend this novel, but don’t trust the dust jacket.  It’s not shocking, but it is beautifully contemplative.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Have you read and reviewed Man in the Dark?  Let me know and I’ll link to your review here.

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11 thoughts on “Review – Man in the Dark by Paul Auster

  1. I haven’t read either of the books by Auster that you mention here, but I did read The New York Trilogy earlier this year (my first exposure to Auster) and I really loved it, so I’ve been anxious to read more by him. The premise of this book sounds really interesting to me, so it’s definitely one I’ll keep in mind by him. It sounds like you have a similar experience reading Auster as I do – what I’ve found is that he’s a very divisive author, one that you either really like or really don’t!

  2. Part of me thinks that I just started with the wrong Auster book (Oracle Night), because it was BEYOND terrible. But maybe I’m just not a fan of his. I’m not really willing to try another book out.

    1. Amanda: Auster doesn’t seem like an author you would like very much, but I think you might like The Book of Illusions. It was really interesting!

  3. I’ve been really curious about Auster for quite a while now, but have never read any of his stuff. You make Man in the Dark sound intriguing – I like the sound of the dreamed alternate-reality murder plotline. I think I may start out with the New York trilogy when I finally get around to Auster, but I’ll keep this one in mind, too.

  4. My experience with Paul Auster is much like yours. He’s written some of my all time favorite books. The Book of Illusion, In the Country of Last Things, and The New York Trilogy are all wonderful, in my opinion. Brooklyn Follies, Oracle Night, some of the others I could not get through at all. He doesn’t just divide readers, he leaves his readers divided.

    But, when he’s good, he’s among the very best.

    So I keep on reading him….

    1. CB James: I’ve only read The Book of Illusions and The Man in the Dark, but I could see how some of the things he does in his stories could go the other way completely. I think I will definitely keep on reading him.

  5. Somehow I missed your post when you initially wrote it, but I was using Google Blog Search to find other reviews of Man in the Dark, and yours came up. I had a somewhat similar experience to you with this book in that I was expecting a big revelation at the end, and I never quite reached it. I enjoyed it anyhow, but it didn’t completely fit together for me. Nonetheless, I plan to read more of Auster’s work. I get the sense that with the right story, Auster could become a favorite of mine.

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