This book was recommended to me by a friend a while ago, and was knocking about on my reading list for quite a while, until I finally got around to it now. I have to say that I came away from it with somewhat mixed feelings: while I enjoyed it a lot, I think it will seem pretentious to many people and perhaps boring to some.
Invisible tells the story of undergraduate literature student Adam Walker, and of the year that changed his life: 1967. That year, he meets the enigmatic, (of course) French International Relations professor Rudolf Born – in my second role as an IR geek, Auster had me hooked there and then – and his girlfriend, the even more enigmatic and even more French (Born is actually of Swiss origin) Margot. Out of the blue, Born offers Walker the opportunity to start a literary magazine, apparently because Margot has taken a liking to him. Things take their course, Margot and Walker sleep with each other, Born finds out, splits up with her, but keeps offering Walker the magazine job. Then things take an ugly turn – I won’t spoil this one for you – Walker is traumatised, the magazine consequentially falls through.
So far, so exciting, but we’re only at about a third of the book! What happens next? Walker, we learn, is now in his 60s, dying of leukemia. He is penning down the events of 1967 over his last months. The rest of the story is thus pieced together from his manuscript by the friend he sends the notes to.
Walker, under the influence of the shell-shocking experiences of April 1967, lives through a summer of even stranger events. He then moves on to spend a Junior Year Abroad in (of course) Paris, where he predictably runs into both Margot and Born again. And again, events run their destructive course.
On the plus side, Invisible is packed with turns that keep you glued to the page (and actually almost made me forget to get off the train on my way to work once). But the turns are never quite unexpected, although I honestly couldn’t say whether this was actually Auster’s intention.
What I think will probably annoy quite a number of people is that it often seems that Auster is trying to show off his knowledge of all things cultural: poetry, music, cinema, you name it – the book is packed with cultural references. Invisible is deeply intellectual, to the point of the plot becoming the background for high-strung discussions of classic Greek poetry out of the mouth of an (of course) French 18-year-old girl. These passages are intellectually stimulating, there’s no denying that, but to me they sometimes felt like fancy add-ons designed mainly to project the author’s knowledge.
What left me somewhat disappointed, though, was the ending. I feel like it would have been more in line with Born’s enigmatic character had we never known what happened to him after Walker’s stint in Paris (bear in mind here that this is coming from someone who usually doesn’t appreciate open endings that much). But Auster can’t contain himself and has him end up as a fat racist on a Caribbean island, thoroughly despicable and almost completely deprived of his initial enigma. It’s a bit as though Auster doesn’t trust the reader’s own judgement and has to close with another add-on just to make it clear that Born is a really, really bad guy.
Overall, though, I quite enjoyed reading Invisible and would recommend it to any intellectual, failed intellectual, or thriller enthusiast willing to put up with lengthy intellectual outbreaks.
German title: Unsichtbar
Spanish title: Invisible