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Paul Auster: Leviathan (1992)


After not really taking to Paul Auster in the first attempt (you can read my review of Invisible here), my boyfriend decided I should give Auster a second chance and got me Leviathan for St Jordi‘s.

Well…  it was fine reading, but I have to say I still didn’t love it. It’s somewhat repetitive – although technically, ‘repetitive’ isn’t quite right since Invisible came afterwards. Leviathan is the story of a writer, Benjamin Sachs, who gets blown up in his car by the side of the road. How did he get there? The story is told by his friend Peter Aaron (spot the initials! – Also, Auster’s middle name is Benjamin…).

It’s those less-than-well-camouflaged self-references that get me. I can’t help myself, they just seem a little… cheap. In a similar vein, having read Invisible, I feel like the only thing Auster really knows how to write about is writers who live in New York and people who go/went to Columbia University, or have some other connection with it. Interestingly, Auster’s wife Siri Hustvedt does something similar in her books, and with her it doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t understand what my problem is, but I just can’t seem to warm to Auster.

The benefits of reading an earlier Auster is that the intellectualism that permeates Invisible is not quite as pronounced in Leviathan yet. The novel spans the years following the Vietnam war to the end of the Cold War, with all the bits of American history that go in between. It’s also the story of a man’s slow (and in the end, rapidly accelerating) descent into madness, ending with his death. It’s well told, Auster’s prose is incredibly fluent, and I might even be tempted to say that it gets quite thrilling at times.

Maybe it’s me. Before starting to read Auster, I had all these ideas in my head about how great his books were supposed to be. Perhaps I’d built it up too much, and would have been perfectly happy with his novels had they been by someone else who doesn’t have a huge name. For some reason, I just don’t think they are what people crack them up to be.

So… how do you feel about Paul Auster?

Evaluation: 6/10 

German title: Leviathan
Spanish title: Leviatán


Author: bettinathenomad

Nomad. International Relations geek. Reader. Feminist. Swimmer. Boulderer. Runner. Hiker. Not necessarily in that order.

6 thoughts on “Paul Auster: Leviathan (1992)

  1. Behind every man…. is a woman who’s much better. In this case Siri Hustvedt. Try her. All of it. Start with “What I Loved”!

  2. I already have! “What I loved” got me hooked, and then I read “Sorrows of an American”, which was also great. I’m now waiting for a friend to finish “Summer without Men” and lend it to me!

  3. Hi I’ve just read leviathan over 2 days and I’m interested to see you are equally ambivalent about it. I’d previously read the book of illusions and this was my 2nd chance for auster and myself.

    As you say this book is a good read – it has interesting characters playing with identity and struggling with the question of how life should be lived, and it has nice illustrations of how elusuve the truth can be, of both events and motive and of the interruption of chance into life choices – and it has strong narrative drive. But also it wants its cake and to eat it. It makes much of Maria’s finding of the address book, and of how this propelled Sachs to his ultimate demise – but it makes little of Sachs being involved in a double homicide and the coincidental relationship he has with one victim. Call me cynical but the latter event is a star to the other’s match-strike in the life and death story of Sachs – Auster knows this but can’t bear to bring attention to it because it’s gauche.

    Ultimately I find myself frustrated with Auster – he has all the skill and craft but there’s something missing, like he hasn’t the ambition or ability to stray further than the end of his block. He hasn’t *just* been a writer all his life but whereas Beckett (who’s mentioned a lot in auster reviews) can write of tramps and dispossessed and Kafka (ditto) of engineers or salesmen, Auster can or will only write of writers. Called Paul. Married to Siri. Etc. I feel if he could have the nerve to really write fiction…

    • Hi Robert, thank you for that thoughtful comment! After reading my first Auster, I felt exactly the same way – like he’s a writer who has it all but chose to stick with what is close to home for him. After reading a second novel of his and finding it *exactly* the same, I’m starting to wonder if it’s really a lack of ambition though. Maybe he really can’t do it?

  4. Leviathan isn’t one of his best….try The Music of Chance or Mr. Vertigo.

    • This was my second attempt at Auster and to be honest the two were so similar in what irked me that I think it’s going to take another while for me to come back to him. If/when I do, I’ll be sure to keep your recommendations in mind – thank you!

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