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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Chance' - the musical !, 21 Nov 2008
This review is from: The Music of Chance (Paperback)
I'm having a sudden urge to raid Paul Auster's works, following up `Mr. Vertigo` with `The Music of Chance`, a book I had long-neglected but somehow - like an Auster character, perhaps - convinced myself I had already read. This is probably because of the low-key but cultish film adaptation starring James Spader and M. Emmet Walsh that burned a peculiar and indelible mark on my brain. Once I had picked up `The Music of Chance', though, it was very difficult to put down, a quality common to the author's novels. There's something in the rhythm of Auster's writing, in his unknotty way of describing incremental and inexorable changes in his characters' fortunes, that makes his works compelling and - in this case - quite distressing. `The Music of Chance' has the curious quality of being simultaneously about inevitability - or fate - and having the atmosphere of a nightmare. Very little about Auster's novels seems real - there is the symbolic nature of a fable about `The Music of Chance' - but as a reader we can still live the experience as one might live through a very bad dream.

`The Music of Chance' has gained, for me at least, a contemporary relevance in that it deals with characters finally enslaved by their own greed. I use `greed' for lack of a better word since in fact Auster's protagonists are not simply driven by avarice but see in money their only chance of freedom, and not without reason of course. It is the fact - or at least the prevailing belief - that money buys freedom which dooms friends Nashe and Pozzi, the odd couple who meet in a chance encounter. Nashe, a somewhat lonely soul, has inherited money from the death of his father and, having been left by his wife, sells virtually all his possessions to embark on a prolonged and randomly-plotted road trip. While hitting the road has provided the classic American metaphor for freedom and its parameters from 'Easy Rider' to, er ,'On The Road' - Nashe's jounrey is not motivated by ideals but by a proverbial roll of the dice. On parting with his belongings he feels:

"a certain pain involved in these transactions, but Nashe almost began to welcome the pain, to feel ennobled by it ... He felt like a man who had finally found the courage to put a bullet in his head - but in this case the bullet was not death, it was life ...".

And later,

"Little by little, he had fallen in love with his new life of freedom and irresponsibility ... after three or four months, he had only to enter the car to feel he was coming loose from his body, that once he put his foot down on the gas and started driving, the music would carry him into a realm of weightlessness".

Like in `Mr Vertigo', weightlessness becomes a metaphor for freedom - of existential release - but in both novels it is a freedom bought with finite resources, and this is where the dream starts to go sour:

"Slowly but surely, the adventure was turning into a paradox. The money was responsible for his freedom, but each time he used it to buy another portion of that freedom, he was denying himself an equal portion of it as well. The money kept him going, but it was also an engine of loss ... "

Nashe's optimism is renewed afresh on the road when he picks up Pozzi, an ambitious young poker player and hustler, whom Nashe offers to back financially in a high-stakes poker game. The game is hosted by a couple of eccentric millionaires - the reclusive Flower and Stone - who won their fortune by luck, of course, in the lottery. It comes as no surprise that Pozzi loses the game in a spiral of bad luck and that the duo becomes hopelessly indebted to the millionaires. In what could be viewed as an allegory for the enslavement of, say, a mortgage, Pozzi and Nashe are forced to repay their debt by working for Flower and Stone in constructing an enormous wall for them out of the stones of a ruined castle. A folly which is at once both bricks and mortar and the embodiment of towering futility - in building the wall Pozzi and Nashe are ultimately imprisoning themselves; akin to digging their own grave.

`The Music of Chance' is a frightening book, with an impending mood of catastrophe - a sense that the cards have already been dealt, that fate is out of the characters' hands: except those of Flower and Stone of course. There is a particularly chilling chapter where Pozzi and Nashe are taken for a pre-Poker game tour of the millionaires' house, where they are shown Stone's elaborate folly: `The City of the World' - a scale-model miniature society with menacing Utopian-totalitarian undertones. While we hope Pozzi and Nashe will win the poker game it is clear one man's luck - his good fortune - will ultimately result in another man's oppression. A powerful fable, 'The Music of Chance' is a timely reminder of money's terrible hold over us, as a giver and denier of freedom - and of fortune's inexorable partiality.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 19 Mar 2009 20:02:58 GMT
T. Newell says:
Interesting post my friend though i thought you may want to know that your quote about 'he felt a certain pain in these transactions' is taken from the part of Moon Palace where Marco Fogg begins to sell his Uncle Victor's books as he runs low on cash. If an honest mistake i can understand it because both protagonists seem to dive headlong toward bankrupt nothingness without ever really deciding why they jumped-fear, freedom...

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Mar 2009 17:39:26 GMT
Demob Happy says:
Hi,
I'm sorry to differ on this but if the quote bears a resemblance to a part of Moon Palace then Auster must have recycled it. The quote was copied, by me, directly from 'The Music of Chance'. Unfortunately I don't have the book to hand to cite the page number but I can guarantee you that is where it came from.
James
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