Rediscover the stunning literary mastery of Paul Auster in seven key novels

Tribute to the American writer, who died on Tuesday, in seven major literary works.

France Télévisions – Culture Editorial


Reading time: 5 min

American writer Paul Auster at his home in Brooklyn (New York, United States), December 29, 2006. (TIMOTHY FADEK / CORBIS NEWS / GETTY IMAGES)

In forty years of career, the American writer Paul Auster, who died on Tuesday April 30 at the age of 77, published around twenty novels, short stories, essays, but also memoirs and poetry. This revered author in France, whom he considered to be “his second country“, also translated Apollinaire and Mallarmé, and wrote film scripts (Smoke, Brooklyn Boogie and Lulu on the Bridge, which he made). All of Paul Auster’s books have been published in France by Actes Sud.

“The Invention of Solitude” (1982)

Although many French readers only discovered him a few years later with his New York Trilogy, it was with this first book that Paul Auster, then aged thirty, entered literature in the United States in 1982. In this novel in two finely articulated parts (The Invisible Man (the father) and The Book of Memory), the writer questions family memory, and in particular attempts to understand the personality of a distant father until the end. absence, while exploring his own feelings as a father. “Whoever seeks truth must be prepared for the unexpected, for it is difficult to find and, when encountered, disconcerting“, says the exergue sentence, signed Heraclitus. This book bears the germ of the motifs of all his work: mourning, absurdity and chance.

“The New York Trilogy” (1986)

It is with this novel divided into three books, The City of Glass, Returned And The Hidden Roomthat Paul Auster will triumph as leader of the new American literary generation. An international success, particularly in France, where it has since been very popular with readers. In this fascinating trilogy made up of three dark novels, the characters investigate others and themselves: the writer Quinn, mistaken for a private detective, agrees to lead the investigation into an extremist religious academic in City of Glasswhile Returned narrates a spinning that stretches over years in the streets of New York and The hidden room evokes the unexplained disappearance of a character named Fanshawe. New York, an elusive world city, is the scene of a metaphysical quest, where chance competes with the absurd (but where nothing is left to chance). Three books which confirm the dazzling writing and inventiveness of Paul Auster.

“Moon Palace” (1989)

Written in the first person singular, this novel recounts the tribulations of Marco Stanley Fogg, a penniless student who arrived in New York in 1965, who soon finds himself forced, due to lack of shelter, to survive like a shadow in Central Park. What follows are long weeks of wandering in the New York jungle, immense and indifferent, where the narrator ends up contemplating his own end. Until a friend, then a young woman, with whom he fell madly in love, reached out to him. An initiatory novel with chiseled characters that stands out”as a representation of the quest for universal identity and incompleteness“, writes its publisher Hubert Nyssen on the back cover.

“Leviathan” (1992)

This 300-page novel, written as a biography, features the character of Ben Sachs, a writer who claims to have been born at the time when the atomic bomb pulverized Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945. He turns away from writing to engage in terrorism and ends up torn apart by the explosion of a homemade bomb he made. The story is told by a friend of Mr. Sachs, Peter Aaron (the same initials as the author Paul Auster), also a writer, who decides to reconstruct the story to counter the police investigation. This novel, which testifies to a disoriented America, losing its bearings, received a triumphant reception, particularly in France where Paul Auster won the Foreign Medici Prize in 1993.

“The Book of Illusions” (2002)

Considered by some critics as one of Paul Auster’s most accomplished novels, this novel is a reflection on mourning, wandering, artistic creation and the coincidences of life. The main character, David Zimmer, a literature professor in Vermont, is devastated by the death of his wife and children in a plane crash. To escape despair, he begins writing a book about a silent film star, Hector Mann, who has been missing since 1929. One evening, a woman who claims to be Hector Mann’s wife tells him that the actor asks for it on his deathbed, which leads him on an unexpected journey.

“4,3,2,1” (2017)

This thousand-page novel (his longest), to which Paul Auster devoted three long years of seclusion, once again explores the idea of ​​chance and the possibilities of destiny. “The real problem is that you can only be in one place at a time.“, explained Paul Auster to the newspaper The world when it was published. “Except through the magic of fiction, it is impossible to take four paths simultaneously. You have to choose one and only one. The one that will become the story of your life.4,3,2,1 precisely tells four different versions of the life of the same character, Archie Ferguson, born in 1947 and the only child in a loving, middle-class Jewish home in New York. Four biographical variations, four tangled possibilities for the same character with 20th century America, and particularly the bustling 60s, as a backdrop. A dizzying construction that opens with a question present on every page: what would have happened if events had been different? Who is Ferguson and what could he have been? When we close the book, only one remains, the real one.

“Baumgartner” (2024)

Latest novel by Paul Auster, published in France in March 2024, Baumgartner was written while he was ill with lung cancer. In this “little tender and miraculous book“, as presented by Siri Hustvedt, writer and wife of Paul Auster, the writer once again works on the reconstruction and destruction of memory which are among his favorite themes. The story ventures into the twists and turns of the memory of an old philosophy professor, Sy Baumgartner, 70 years old, who lost his wife, Anna, to death from drowning, around ten years previously. With a character who looks exactly like his author (both born in Newark, New Jersey, with a poet wife), Paul Auster goes back in time, takes stock of a life and says his farewells.

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