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VINE VOICEon 28 March 2004
In "Portrait of an Invisible Man", the first part of Paul Auster's fascinating memoir "Invention of Solitude", Auster writes about his father's life as a means of helping himself come to terms with his father's death. Auster remembers his father as an elusive figure in his life, a truant from life emotionally detached and disconnected from family ("he had managed to keep himself at a distance from life"). To Auster, it seemed that the world's attempts to embrace his father simply bounced off him without ever making a breakthrough - it was impossible to enter his solitude. The theme of Solitude runs powerfully through this disturbing, mesmerising memoir.

Auster is conscious of how little knowledge he actually has of his father's early childhood years, how unenlightened he is with regard to his father's inner life, how few clues he has to his father's character and how little understanding of the underlying reasons for his father's immunity from the world at large. Through an amazing co-incidence involving his cousin, Auster learns of a terrible secret buried deep in his father's childhood past - the story was splashed across old newspaper reports of the time, sixty years before - of a shocking family tragedy that shattered his father's childhood world and could have seriously affected his mental outlook during his formative years, accounting for the solitariness and elusiveness that characterised the "invisible man" of Auster's childhood. Excellent, compelling writing! Dramatic revelations from a grim, distant past finally brought to light. Highly recommended!

In the second part, "The Book of Memory", there is a marked shift of perspective (away from the point of view of Auster, as son, writing about his feelings and memories of his father's life, after his death) to an autobiographical account of Auster's own experience, now himself as father, writing about his son. More abstract in content and style than "Portrait of an Invisible Man", "The Book of Memory" comprises autobiographical segments interspersed with commentaries on the nature of chance interspersed with ruminations on Solitude and exploration of language. As an Auster-holic, my favourite book to-date is "Moon Palace".
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on 26 February 2002
This is Auster's intimate and personal account of his own experiences as a child, attempting, and often failing to relate to his father, set alongside accounts of his own personal experience of being a father. At times moving, at times hilarious, this is vintage Auster, but with Auster allowing us closer to his own life than we have been allowed before. He walks the tightrope of genuine emotion and sentimentality, and impressively manages to avoid cliches and platitudes. There are experiences in this book to which we can all relate- either as children, or as parents. At times, the narrative is slow, but if you the reader are in no hurry, this book is full of both touching moments and thought provoking challenges as to what the true nature of family relationships might be. This is a book about family as only Auster could do it- experimental, but always heartfelt, eschewing sentimentality, but never emotionally cold. A must for both Auster fans and those new to his work.
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on 7 December 2008
The third in a trilogy of books I've read by Paul Auster recently - following 'The Music of Chance' and 'Mr Vertigo' - 'The Invention of Solitude' is a markedly different work, an autobiographical account divided into two parts: 'Portrait of an Invisible Man' and 'Book of Memory'. The former is a raw outpouring of reflections on the character of his recently-deceased father, an apparently impenetrable, aloof and stubborn man. The latter is a collection of loosely-connected writings on the subject of fatherhood, solitude, memory and chance, that seems to be rooted (though not explicitly) in the author's complex emotions regarding his father's death. Anecdotal and sometimes itself a little oblique, it encompasses literary and artistic criticism, and musings on the nature of memory, all written in the third person under the abbreviated pseudonym of 'A'.

In 'Portrait of an Invisible Man' we find the author at his most emotionally honest, describing the act of writing about his father and their relationship more painful than cathartic:

"There has been a wound, and I realize now that it is very deep. Instead of healing me as I thought it would, the act of writing has kept this wound open"

Elsewhere Auster reveals his frustration at the slowness of his progress in describing his father, expressing a:

"feeling of moving around in circles, of perpetual backtracking, of going off in many directions at once ... No sooner have I thought one thing than it evokes another thing, and then another thing, until there is an accumulation of detail so dense that I feel I am going to suffocate. Never before have I been so aware of the rift between thinking and writing".

Despite the rawness in parts of 'Portrait of an Invisible Man', Auster still succeeds in unpeeling layers of symbolism or significance from everyday objects in his typically concise prose. At one point he describes the picture that haunts the front cover of my edition of 'The Invention of Solitude',

"a trick photo taken ... during the Forties. There are several of him sitting around a table, each image shot from a different angle ... as if they have gathered to conduct a seance ... as if he has come there only to invoke himself, to bring himself back from the dead, as if, by multiplying himself, he has inadvertently made himself disappear. There are five of him there, yet the nature of the trick photography denies the possibility of eye contact. Each one is condemned to go on staring into space ... but seeing nothing, never able to see anything. It is a picture of death, a portrait of an invisible man".

While here and elsewhere in 'Portrait of an Invisible Man' we are treated to the Auster we know from his fiction - the deceptively simple prose, simultaneously fluid and philosophical - the 'Book of Memory' is more frustrating. The lucid portrait of Auster's rather unknowable father is powerful and compelling, and while written in an evident outpouring of complex feelings, is never less than tangible and heartfelt. Thus the more affected, knotty literary devices employed in the 'Book of Memory', coupled with its more various thematic concerns, have a rather unbalancing effect on the reader. While many of Auster's mini-investigations are engaging in their own right, they don't pull together as well as they could, and create an incongruity when taken in tandem with the first part.

Auster's critique of Pinocchio is particularly interesting, enabling him to make powerful illustrations on the nature of fatherhood and the loss of childhood to memory. Equally compelling are Auster's writings on Vermeer and Van Gogh, but he struggles to pull these disparate tangent's into a homogenous whole. It is clear he is passionate about many of the subjects, and could write a great deal more on each, but he often fails to make the transitions between these essays count for the reader. While they evidently connect, it is not always clear why, or at least the leap from one to the other is not always as illuminating as it obviously is to the author. So, while 'The Book of Memory' remains a personal journey, it is not one as easy to share as 'Portrait of an Invisible Man'.
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on 28 June 2013
A very easy to read book but worth a 2nd read just to note some of the great sayings.I would recomend
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 November 2015
Paul Auster is one of my favourite authors and this book about his father resonated so deeply with me.

Auster's essay/book is a way of him coming to terms with the death of his father - a man he scarcely knew.

There is an underlying sadness about his lack of relationship with his father. He dresses this up in a very poetic but very readable prose that is both tender and shocking. I think so many people will understand the author's sadness about what might and what could have been.

This is a beautifully written and personal reminiscence from one of the great authors.
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on 27 February 2014
I truly love Paul Auster's work and am always happy to wallow in his universe. This book is no exception. I always buy his work and actually that of his wife Siri Hustveydt. Park Slope here I come…...
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on 27 December 2014
It's amazing how Paul Auster can mix Old Testament with personal facts, all dissected to the bare minimum, to a dimension where everything stops to make sense and hence takes control of you.
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on 12 April 2013
I bought this memoir to supplement my reading group's choice of a Paul Auster's novel, as I enjoy the connection between memoir and fiction.
Once I started to read this memoir I stopped reading the novel as I was gripped by the lyrical and poetic way in which the author observed his own life, with which he was obviously struggling. I was cruising through the pages, lulled by the lyricism, engaged by the struggle; impressed by Auster's knowledge of poetry and his immersion in it - when I came upon an event which literally made this reader's jaw drop. It was so casually slipped in that I almost din't believe what I'd read the first time and had to go back and re-read it, and yes, it was there - I hadn't imagined it.
This is an unusual and haunting memoir dealing with shifting and fragmenting identity and the echoes of traumatic events being rediscovered in echoes of other people and poetry. I enjoyed reading this in conjunction with his novel 'The New York Trilogy'.
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on 7 March 2008
This one of very few books I gave up on. The first part, "Portrait of an Invisible Man" is Auster's excellent exploration of his emotionally detached father's background. He uncovers a murder within the family and it was the fall-out from this that shaped his father's nature. Yet small incidents of kindness towards strangers show what might have been had his father not been scarred by events in his childhood.

Unfortunately the second part ("The Book of Memory") is a scrapbook of disorganised waffle about interludes in European cities interspersed with musings about chance and quotes from other authors. This just does not hang together. The effect is disjointed and uninspiring maundering. It was unrewarding to the point where I lost interest in Auster's thoughts and experiences and gave up trying to plough through his ramblings. A great pity, because I have enjoyed so many of his books, but this one really lets him down.
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on 5 April 2016
Bought it for study purposes - absolutely wonderful reading in English, even if sad.
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