Man in the dark
(Paul Auster, 2008)

I was rather surprised to receive this slim book for Christmas, never having heard of the author before, but today I sat down and read all 180 pages.

I found it readable enough. Auster is a good writer, who can conjure up characters and scenes fluently, and it all flows quite well.

However, unfortunately there's very little to it. The book is about an elderly widower who lives with his daughter and granddaughter, all three of them mourning people who have passed on in one way or another. The old man remembers his past life, talks a bit to his granddaughter, and also, to pass the time while awake at night, conjures up a half-baked fantasy about someone yanked into an alternate world in which the USA is fighting another civil war. After a while he apparently gets fed up with the fantasy and kills it off, without having achieved anything with it.

And after 180 pages Auster likewise stops his story without having achieved anything with it.

I don't actively dislike the book, but I find it rather annoying that someone with the skills to be a decent writer should sell such a idle daydream to the public while other writers are putting real work into their books. Clearly, little or no research and little or no planning went into this; I guess it was all written in one draft over a short period of time, with perhaps just a little tidying up afterwards.

Probably Auster would say that I've missed the point of his book completely. If there was a point to it, I've certainly missed it. But, if he wants to sell me books, it's his responsibility to write a book whose point is clear. I'm not going to rack my brain searching for meaning in this one. I have a pile of books by other writers waiting to be read; I'll go on to the next one.

Written in January 2009