Paul Auster (1947-2024) | Paul Auster or the secret life of events

When I learned of Paul Auster’s death at age 77 from lung cancer in his Brooklyn home, I thought of Willy and Mr. Bones, the characters in his novel. Timbuktu (1999) – and of course to his film Smoke from 1995 which takes place in a tobacco shop, he who was a cigarillo smoker.

I pulled out Timbuktu from my library. We can’t resist the first sentences of Paul Auster’s books, master of the incipit which makes you want to read everything else, and dive into his labyrinth.

The story is told from the point of view of a dog, Mr Bones, who notices that his master Willy, who is coughing up his lungs, is going to die: “What could an unfortunate dog do? Mr Bones had lived with Willy since he was a puppy and it was almost impossible for him now to imagine a world without his master. All his thoughts, all his memories, every particle of the air and the earth seemed to him imbued with Willy’s presence. Habits die hard and there is truth, surely, in the proverb that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but it wasn’t just love and devotion that kept the dog going. scared Mr. Bones at what was happening. It was pure ontological terror. With Willy removed from the world, there was every chance that this world itself would cease to exist. »


Paul Auster during a meeting with the public at the Rialto theater in 2017

And yet, a lot of things will happen with this loss and the wandering of Mr. Bones that will follow. Paul Auster’s characters, dog or human, are often misfits lost in a universe too big or narrow for them, at the mercy of chance which has its own laws, terribly romantic, when you are interested in them.

There is everything I love about Auster in these first pages, where intellect fights with sensitivity, as always with this writer.

Paul Auster removed from the world, one of the most beating hearts of New York disappears, and one of the most beautiful music of chance falls silent.

But his protean work – poetry, novels, essays, screenplays and films – remains.

My first thought, when I learned of the death of Paul Auster, was for Bertrand Gervais, my literature professor at UQAM who introduced me to him. When I called him, I found someone in mourning, needless to say. “His concerns responded to the spirit of the times: the relationship of identity, the relationship to others, the fragility of human beings in the face of these large groups that are cities, religions or dogmas,” he explains. . The capacity we have to rebel or be overcome by rebellion, faced with an increasingly complex world. »

Paul Auster, resistant to new technologies, wrote by hand, then on his old typewriter, before having someone else transfer his manuscript to a computer. I learned this by reading the articles on his death.

“I would be curious to know the number of theses or dissertations that we have supervised that focused on Paul Auster, especially during the decade when he was truly omnipresent,” Jean-François Chassay, retired professor, specialist in American literature at the ‘UQAM. “He was a writer who had a sense of approach, we want to read more. The importance of chance, destiny and probabilities were very romantic themes, which he used well. This allowed extremely catchy and hypnotizing narrations, as in City of Glass. »

I remember that in the 90s, all the literary people were reading Paul Auster and Milan Kundera, the essentials of the time. As sometimes happens with American writers, it was through France that fame confirmed Auster, translated into around forty languages, especially since he was, like others before him, a Francophile. He also lived poorly by translating French authors during his lean years in Paris, where he dreamed more of making cinema.

I am convinced that his essay The invention of solitude, one of his first books that I read at the same time as everyone else, with so much emotion, in which he talks about the death of his father and his need to write, created many vocations , even if he said he discouraged young writers in a video that has been circulating on social networks since his death, which I translate here: “When I talk to young writers, most of the time I tell them: don’t do that . Don’t become a writer. It’s a terrible way to live your life. There is nothing to come from this except poverty, darkness and loneliness. But if you have a taste for all these things, which means you really want to do it, do it, but don’t expect anything from anyone, because the world owes you nothing and no one asks you to do it. »

Watch the extract from an interview with Paul Auster

Paul Auster is also a fantastic trash writer, even if he did well in the end. He didn’t have it easy in the beginning, and he pulled the devil by the tail, until the legacy of his father, a man who was a mystery to him and whom he lost young, allows him to write full time. The question of heritage, identity and father-son filiation will greatly color his work. And even his life, when we think of the tragic death of his drug addict son.


Carole David

For the poet Carole David, reader of Auster, The invention of solitude is a matrix of his writing. “It’s a book that hasn’t aged a bit, and I offered it in my creative classes,” she says. It is a writer’s reflection on the coming to writing, something very sensitive, while his New York trilogy (City of Glass, Returned, The hidden room) Or 4321, are sums. There is both modesty and at the same time an unpacking without subterfuge, in which he gives himself up completely. »

Paul Auster is a writer who left his mark on his generation, without a doubt, she adds. “Personally, what I remembered and always loved about him is that he was first and foremost a poet and a translator of the surrealists. This transition from poetry to prose has always impressed me. When you read a lot of poetry, you know that Paul Auster is fascinated by it and that is what gives great breadth to his writing. »

It’s funny, but Carole David, Bertrand Gervais and Jean-François Chassay all three talk to me, without having consulted, about a book by Auster that I haven’t read, I thought my father was God, an anthology of stories for the National Story Project, which was also a radio project, where the writer collected stories from people who were willing to tell them. “Writing is putting forward anecdotes which each time bring back the disturbing strangeness, the complexity of the world,” underlines Bertrand Gervais, who does not hide having been influenced in his writing by Auster, whose style invited emulation. “Coincidences, chance, the secret life of events… it was the anecdotal which served for him as the foundation of a complex poetics. »

I read him less in recent years, too busy with so many other books, and also because I had fallen a little in love with the writing of his partner of over 40 years, Siri Hustvedt, which I believe does not affect him. would not have displeased. In an interview with France Inter, his French editor, Françoise Nyssen, recalled how hurt he was that this brilliant woman he deeply admired was presented as “Paul Auster’s wife”.

These two formed one of the most famous intellectual couples in the United States, and what is rather rare in writing couples is that they did not crush each other, in a prolific creative complicity where they were the first readers of their manuscripts.

“Siri made me a better person,” he confided to my colleague Sonia Sarfati during his last interview with The Press in 2017 for the novel 4321, the most impressive of his career. “Writing books,” he said in this interview, “is a bit like going to another dimension, it’s a wonderful adventure into unknown territories. You don’t know what awaits your characters, so you have to be very attentive and listen to them. Writing novels is not like playing puppeteer because your characters are not – should not be – puppets. They are… human. They live in me as much as “real” human beings do. That’s what being a writer is all about. »

Read “Four Times Paul Auster”

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