Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: Oracle Night

Oracle Night
By Paul Auster
Henry Holt and Company December 2003
243 pages
From the library 

So I made the ultimate book blogger mistake. I read a book, I liked it, and I thought I would take a few days to ruminate before writing my review. Well, it's three weeks later, we are moving, and I must take this library book back today. Please forgive the potentially disjointed nature of this review...

The hero of this tale is one Sidney Orr, a writer who is recovering from being ill. His transition back into the real world involves him taking meandering strolls through New York City. He happens upon a shop in which he finds a beautiful blue notebook. Hoping it will inspire him to write again, he purchases it and takes it home. Once he begins writing, he finds himself compulsively filling the pages with the story of Nick Bowen. Bowen is an editor who travels on a whim across the country with a single manuscript in his possession - Oracle Night.

Many writers attempt to juggle  multiple plots. Few do so as seamlessly as Mr. Auster. I found myself so deeply involved in each story line that I completely forgot that the other one existed until its turn came around again. This book doesn't stop at just two stories: instead it weaves past and present, fiction and reality throughout in a way requires readers to constantly pay attention. 

Auster manages to do something else that I would find irritating under different circumstances. He uses copious footnotes and they are huge. Somehow, within this novel, it works. I don't know if this is a frequent sight in Auster's novels, since this is my first. I will say that the footnotes themselves are informative and often laugh out loud funny. 

This story does an excellent job of being a book about writing and publishing without being exclusive. Auster does not hit you over the head with his philosophy on writing or inspiration. Instead, he carefully weaves it throughout his many fascinating stories. Auster doesn't take himself too seriously - this novel is fun to read, and I have to imagine it was fun for him to write. That doesn't mean he shies away from the things that matter. His characters travel through this utterly bizarre dance of life, searching for inspiration, for meaning, and for love. As in life, they often find different answers than they expected and sometimes, no answer at all.

To summarize: I really liked Oracle Night. Paul Auster will probably show up on this blog again. I need to not procrastinate forever in writing my book reviews! 


  1. The plot and style of this book sounds like something I would hate but you manage to make it sound actually very good. I'll remember it for a time when I feel like reading outside my comfort zone.

    1. It's interesting in that it doesn't seem to really be about anything while you are reading it, but when you finish the book you realize how subtly Auster has looked at relationships and ambition. I get the feeling he is one of those authors people either adore or hate.

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