:— Fatal Attraction
Paul Auster’s latest novel develops the themes apparent in his celebrated earlier work. Toni Davidson reviews the dance to the rhythms and riddles of fate that is Mr Vertigo.
With the release of the film adaptation of The Music of Chance. the weird and wonderful world of Paul Auster is being opened for a whole new audience. The characters are classic Auster and are a good example of his ability to project with abstract cool the most disturbing of situations. Nashe and Pozzi in The Music ofC'hance are typical ofthe alienated and fate-driven wanderers through Auster's world.
In his first major success The New York Trilogy. Auster triggered the neurotic pulse of a New York generation wealthy enough to have achieved material dreams and old enough to know how easily it could slide away. The characters in the Trilogy. given the names of colours. behave as metaphysical detectives. ‘Philip Marlowes‘. gnawing their souls with selfdoubt and positioning themselves. often fatefully, in a world slightly phased from the mainstream.
Auster’s characters may start out as remarkably calm and civilised people, not deliberate outsiders. but by the end of most of his novels he has them sleeping rough in Central Park. killing innocents and bombing treasured memon'als. Marco Fogg in Moon Palace and Peter Aaron in [.r’t‘ltililllftili find themselves taking part in bizarre coincidences. wrenching tragedies and surreal acts of chance. In the Auster world. a thriller is not simply a thriller. he twists science fiction plots and
peppers them with cynical. humorous condemnations on the state of the American conscience.
in his new book Auster takes many of these themes a step further. Vertigo charts the progress of Walt Rawley an orphan from the mid-West who is set on a perilous road to stardom by the mesmerising ﬁgure of Master Yehudi. Walt falls into that classic Auster trap. 5 Chance. A feeling runs throughout the book that Walt is dancing to the rhythms and riddles of fate. As in so many of Auster‘s books. the fate driven
narrative doesn‘t help predict the end but complicates it more; Auster imparts a sense ofempathy to the reader that neither he nor she given similar circumstances could have acted any differently.
in Vertigo Auster employs his usual tactics but takes Walt into the realm of the fantastical -— a genre he has only alluded to in previous novels most notably In the Country of 111st Things. The Master sees in Walt an ability to ﬂy and offers him the life of a
I millionaire and a way out of his squalid
upbringing. But the road to such riches becomes more and more hazardous and along with Aesop. a crippled fledgling intellectual. and Mother Sioux. a refugee from a tragic past. Walt undergoes trials and tribulations that both the Master and fate throw at him. Throughout the book you sense that Mr Vertigo is more than a gritty. and often bleakly funny. tale but also serves as an ambitious meditation on the author's own quest for inspiration.
Mr Vertigo is published by Faber and Faber ([14. 99).
_ Engineering change
You’ll find Pasquale’s Angel filed under Science Fiction in your local bookshop, which is a shame because it’s not really that at all. Paul J. McAuley’s previous books Red Dust and Eternal light, which were strong on future worlds and punkish anti- heroes, won him the ‘one to watch’ tag in the sci-ti press. So what does he do? lie goes andwrites a story set during the Florentine Renaissance. Pasquale’s Angel comes from the ‘what if the course of history had been different’ genre. The premise is that Leonardo da Vinci was a great engineer - The Great Engineer, in fact - who dabbled a bit with paint. So no
i Mona Lisa or Last Supper, but a city which buzzed with the zany contraptions from the pages of his notebooks. Rather than a time when art and science were interwined, inspiring and feeding off each other, the Renaissance becomes a fast- industrialising age where mechanical inventions threaten to sideline artists - the discovery of photography is just round the corner and great painters are reduced to producing backdrops for gimmicky son-et-lumiére sideshows.
This colourful, mock-Renaissance canvas is stretched over a thriller frame which sucks the reader into a world of political intrigue and Papal scandal. The central characters are Pasquale, a talented artist’s pupil, and the hard-drinking journalist Machiavegli, who follow a trail of bodies which exposes The Great i Engineer’s malevolent influence on the city.
I ‘l was interested in the split between art and science and this was a time
when that split wasn’t actually there,’
say McAuley. ‘This is about the effect of weird inventions that have come about rather earlier than in our time.’ Pasquale’s Angel works as a well- paced whodunnit; the skewed historical perspective and the relationship between Pasquale and Machiavegii suggest the influence of The flame of the Rose, minus the impenetrable Latin segments. It’s a historical pastiche, full of entertaining details and knowing references to the late 20th century that give it a sparky, brainy feel. McAuley is a research biologist at St Andrews University and he admits the book is a kind of ‘grumble’ at the way scientists are misunderstood. ‘The thing about ideas is that they are morally neutral,’ he says. ‘People think technology is corrupting but it’s the use you put it to that’s the point.’ (Eddie Gibb) Pasquale’s Angel is published by Victor Gollancz at £15.99.
70 The List 8—2I April 199-1