Saturday, May 1, 2010
The Brooklyn Follies. Paul Auster. Faber and Faber Limited (2005)
This is a beautifully written and optimistic book. Nathan Glass returned to Brooklyn where he spent part of his childhood to recover from his divorce and to continue to recover from lung cancer. He has a serious row with his daughter and finds himself alone. He meet his nephew Tom Wood, who is also in Brooklyn trying to find a new direction for his life. The two meet regularly and Nathan develops a friendship with Tom's employer, Harry Brightman. Out of the blue, Tom's niece, Lucy, who refuses to speak, appears on Tom's doorstep. A number of events follow that offer the prospect of change and renewal that are embraced and a warm and deeply engaging story of people willing change and accept happiness emerges.
Paul Auster challenges the old idea that there is no drama in kindness, that happiness is a shallower emotion than sorrow. Nathan Glass is a nice man who works very hard to assist those he loves. He does not interfere in their lives, he is deeply involved with them and acts with them not on them or for them. He is not a saint or a magician, the story is as much of his follies as his successes. None of the varied and lively cast are passive actors in their own lives, they are all trying to make sense of their lives and to actively be happy and contented. The interactions among the cast are truthful, frequently humorous and tolerant. They have not been soured or exhausted by life, there is a considerable number of sharp conflicts in the book, the cast are prickly and defensive, blessedly they are free of malice, with some exceptions.
One of the great pleasures of the book is the exactness of the writing, Paul Auster is generous with words in the book, there is a pleasure in their use, none are wasted or irrelevant. The relaxed confidence underlying the writing allows the reader to slip fully into the story and enjoy it to the full. There is a horrible misjudgement that nearly unbalances the entire book, that it does not do so it the highest compliment I can pay to the extraordinary quality of the work. A genuine addition to the sum total of human happiness.