COINCIDENTAL usrc ‘
Paul Auster's latest novel ’Moon Palace‘ has on its cover a rengey-looklng man, with his iace hell-obscured by the top of the Statue ol Liberty’s head. The man is sitting on a box, which is apparently lying on a beach in the middle at New York. He is surrounded by printed pages and he is resting his head on his hand. The cover is surreal, cryptic, tricky, nebulous and, although iraught with meaning, it may well have none. And it exactly reilects the contents oi the book.
The here at ‘Moon Palace' is Marco Stanley Fogg, youth and student, who is cast adriit in a world oi no relatives and low strings to tie him to the ground. From this apparently straightforward and uncomplicated base, Fogg manages to tie himseli in knots. l-ie near-starve: himseli to death because oi a dire shortage oi tunds (work never crosses his mind), he (once rescued) at last does go to work tor a blind, wheelchair-bound old man called Eiting and towards the end oi the novel, he sets out on an exploratory trip to the Wild West. in between these experiences are several more equally extraordinary adventures and manoeuvres. To their author, the characters are not bizarre: ‘I see people every day in New York who are a lot more bizarre.’
The book contains three entire stories -the impenetrable Fogg‘s, Thomas Eitlng's and Solomon Barber’s. Auster admits that each at them could almost stand alone: ‘You could have them independent oi one another. But the idea oi looping them all together is what iascinated me. it’s like a piece of music in a way, rather than a plotted noveL
‘Thls is a book about discovering the past. By having them all in the same story, they’re really all Marco’s story. it's about his growing up. In order to
switching is disconcerting, but once the dual existence is skilfully realised through the sparse and brutally lucid prose, it works perfectly. The text recounting daily life becomes infused with the imminence of the next horrifying passage of italics, just as the mundane events were always pervaded by a sense of dread for Fraser.
The tension is higher than in most fictional thrillers: the horror, almost always riding on the power of understatement, cuts deep simply because it is always solitary and emotional, never melodramatically proffered. My Father’s House would probably be a great source of inspiration for incest survivors, imbued as it is with an undauntable passion for life. (Stewart Hennessey)
JUST PUBLISHED NON FICTION
I Chambers Dictionary oi Synonyms end Antonyms Ed. Manser (Chambers £3.95) No need to be lost/abandoned/disappeared’ mislaid/ puzzled/perplexed for words
grow up, we have to come to terms with whatever our past might be. Many oi us don’t know what it is - especially Americans. We can’t trace our ancestors back centuries the way that people in Scotland can. Most people who came to America just obliterated their pasts - they became Americans. To do that, they tell they had to get rid at their heritage. in my case, it’s iurther complicated by the tact that my lamily is Jewish. Even ii i wanted to iind out, lcouldn’t. All the records in Europe were destroyed. It is rather puzzling. We have, at least, to come to terms with our parents, the people who brought us up. That’s what the book is about. lthink.’
Thus Auster makes his most delinitive statement about ‘Moon Palace'. And in the same way as the book dangles truths and givens, then retracts them, dangles them, then retracts them, Austerjeopardises his statement with the ponderous uncertainty oi ‘l think’. There are many such potential clues and many potential conclusions trailed through the book, which serve as manna to the reader who is a compulsive meaning-hunter.
Much material is provided by Fogg and his soon-dead Uncle Victor, both of whom sporadically eke signiiicance out at coincidences. Auster explains
I Money & Class in America Lewis H. Lapham (Picador £3.99) Celebrated dissection of the American Dream, plus close scrutiny of its dollar-bill studded entrails.
I Pen Portraits Patricia Clarke (Pandora £8.95) Full account of Australia‘s women writers, from earliest journalists and popular serial writers on.
I Martin Walker’s Russia: Dispatches From The Guardian's Correspondent in MOSCOW Martin Walker (Abacus £3.99) Life behind the Iron Curtain, reported with quirks, warts and all. I Mrs Thatcher’s Revolution Peter Jenkins (Pan £4.99) Revised and up-dated to mark the dire decade. this account ofThatcher‘s reign is fascinating and seminal.
I The Duiier’s Guide To Boxing Mike Gordon (Columbus £2.95) Cartoon buffoonery ofevents and behaviour in and out ofthe ring.
I Bloomsbury Good Word Guide Ed. Manser (Bloomsbury £5.99) Descriptive rather than prescriptive. this guide aims to advise on word usage and not dictate.
the inevitable interest in this aspect oi his book: ‘Uncle Victor is someone looking tor connections. ills spirit iniiltrates the book. But it's not as though it means anything. You could take anything arbitrarily and begin to pull it apart and analyse it. You’d start to make connections, because everything does connect in some way. Whether it means anything is another question altogether. i tend to think not. The idea that “our lives are determined by chance’ — linking the two words “determined” and "chance" - is a contradiction. You can’t explain chance!
Fogg's voyage oi discovery is an
-‘ attempt to get at the truth oi his
parentage. When he iinds out purely by accident, and the neat bow oi the novel is tied, a large question mark continues to hang over his discoveries and over Eillng’s revelations about his past as a painter: ‘lt’s not clear that it is the truth. And I don’t think there’s any way oi knowing. There’s no way oi knowing it anything that Filing says is true - except the tact that he probably did have a son. That seems pretty clear. But the whole thing might be an invention’ says Auster.
Bluiis and double-bluiis, connections and severed connections, patterns with unclear relevance—all have their part to play. Auster’s reputation as a thinking writer (as opposed to a writer who thinks? — being cryptic is catching) is, according to the man himseli, undeserved: ‘Writing is ior me a very unconscious process. i try not to think too much about it. Writing is a journey, an act oi discovery. It you somehow decide in advance what you want to discover, then there‘s no point in doing it. Then you’re a tourist on a package holiday. I'd rather be an explorer coming oil into unknown territory.’ (Kristina Woolnough)
‘Moon Palace' is published by Faber at £11.99.
I The World’s Best Maggie Thatcher Jokes Des MacHale (Angus & Robertson £2.50) ‘According to Margaret Thatcher‘s political enemies, the only Tory that is good for anything is a lavatory‘ and more. I ATime To Dance, No Time To Weep Rumer Godden (Corgi £3.99) Volume one of best-selling novelist’s autobiography tells of a childhood in India and England, writing and World War Two.
I Children at the Future: The Battle For Britain's Schools (Hogarth Press £6.95) Clear analysis of the Government's educational reforms and the consequences. Unashamedly anti them too.
I Overload: Beating ME Jacqueline Steincamp (Fontana £4.95) Case histories, causes, preventions. self-help and diagnosis are all present in this thorough ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) handbook.
I The Stress Solution Samuel Klarreich (Heinemann Kingswood £3.99) A new answer, ‘counterthinking‘, to age-old angsts. I The New Calvin and Hobbes
Collection: Something Under The Bed IS Drooling Bill Watterson (Sphere £3.99) More cartoon capers from the horrible little boy and his toy tiger.
I The Cowk Storm Nancy Brysson Morrison (Canongate Classics £3.95) Sort of Bronte-esque tale of three Scottish sisters, their loves and their losses, full of high drama and the ravages of nature.
I Keeping The Faith Carol Clewlow (Faber £3.99) Slim but loaded story of Maud and her short-comings in the face of a lyrical and encircling religion.
I Daniel Martin John Fowles (Picador £5.99) Old university chums wrestle with the past, but it, as usual, ﬂips them to the ﬂoor and wins hands down. Addictive dramatized reality.
I Far Tortuga Peter Matthiessen (Collins Harvill £6.95) Sort of poem-novel of life on the sea.
I Under Cover Tom Philbin (Sphere £3.50) New York cop follows the trail of sadistic murderers, his true love is in danger and all the usual TV schmultz.
I Overhead in A Balloon And Other Stories Mavis Gallant (Faber £7.99) New edition of Gallant’s finely observed stories of life in Canada and France.
I A Woman Oi Judah Ronald Frame (Sceptre £4.99) One novel and ﬁfteen short stories trundle along the steady path of domesticity, which is shaken periodically by shocking fantasies or by the past.
I The Carpathians Janet Frame (Pandora £3.95) Wealthy New Yorker visits New Zealand and cracks open rich but volatile Maori myths in the midst of suburbia.
I Music And Silence Anne Redmon (Arena £3.99) The adventures of Maud, talented cellist, in love and life. A sort of modern day Jane Austen novel, with illness and passion but without the play of manners.
I The preliminary programme for the fourth Edinburgh Book Festival has been announced. Big international names booked to appear so far include: Garrison Keillor, Kazuo Ishiguro, Gore Vidal, Edna O‘Brien, Penelope Lively, Anthony Burgess, Stephen Spender and Joyce Carol Oates. The total, including authors due to participate in the children‘s book events, is well over 100.
As last time, there will be Meet the Author events, Lunchtime Readings, signing sessions and workshops. A new aspect to the programme will be the Sunday Night Lecture — such luminaries as Gore Vidal, Anthony Burgess and Dame Mary Warnock will take to the podium then.
The Book Festival looks set to be
bigger and better than ever before. The programme will be out in late
June. For further details h 2251915. p 0mm]
“The ListS— 18 May 1989