Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Brooklyn Follies

I was looking for a quiet place to die.

All right! Here I am starting a blog and writing my first book review! And for this first review I'm going to be talking about Paul Auster's famous novel, The Brooklyn Follies (2005)

I was recommended this book a few months ago by a friend of mine who told me about its brilliant, imposing and original opening line: 'I was looking for a quiet place to die.' And for good reason, as soon as I read these first words, I immediately felt like discovering what was hidden behind the following pages. 

All right, I reckon that when I read this opening sentence, I didn't have a very good feeling about the narrator and I thought: 'Ok, I'm about to read a very pessimistic book with at its centre a character who seems to have suicidal tendencies...' But then I realised it had nothing to do with that. In fact, the context I was subsequently introduced to was completely different. 

Sixty-year old Nathan goes back to Brooklyn, the place where he'd spent the first years of his life, to 'end [his] sad and ridiculous life.' As I read on, I rapidly understood that this narrative was not about depicting the final aimless days of Nathan's life but that it was more about getting a fresh new start, and especially about having the guts to get it. 

Auster represents the following obvious and undeniable truth: each and every one of us are the heroes of our lives. Indeed, we common people don't spend our days saving the lives of other people, we don't restore peace on earth or put an end to poverty. But I felt like Auster wanted to remind us all the greatness and hope that exists in the simplicity of common people's lives. 

Of course we know that on a small scale we're to the universe just like what ants are to us: nothing. But if our lives don't have a lot of meaning to the world, they do mean something to us. And as a result, from time to time, we cross invisible doors we originally thought were sealed up, and we go up steps we originally thought were too high. 

Auster reveals an optimistic universe at the centre of most ordinary lives and proves that one can outlive cancer, that one can find the courage to cross the street and strike up a conversation with a stranger, or that one can considerably help his friends, but more than anything else, he proves that one can put the past aside and start something better, something truer. 

Auster also reminds the reader that to do so, one must have the will, the patience and a minimum of self-consciousness: 'As long as I was alive, I had to figure out a way to start living again, but even if I didn't live, I had to do more than just sit around and wait for the end.'

I think the reason why I particularly liked The Brooklyn Follies is because of the reality and truth that come out from it. While reading this book, I smiled a lot, I sympathised with the characters, I understood them and I was touched by the simple narrative of this ordinary man. I discovered in this novel characters more or less disoriented in a world where everything goes so fast. And still, they go on living at their pace, trying their best to spread love around them. I enjoyed being taken into Brooklyn and following Nathan and his friends into unknown streets. Even though I've never been to New York before, after reading that novel I felt like I'd been there! And if not physically then mentally. 

Quote from the book: 'When a person is lucky enough to live inside a story, to live an imaginary world, the pains of this world disappear. For as long as the story goes on, reality no longer exists.'

About the publication: Picador, USA, 2006.

About the front cover photography: Sean Bassett.
I thought the front cover photography perfectly reflected the atmosphere of the novel. I got the impression that the photograph started from a large panoramic view of Brooklyn and randomly zoomed in. 

The crossroad could represent the crossing of all these people's different lives. I couldn't help but make a parallel between my impression on these people then as a spectator and my impression on them if I had been myself in the picture, randomly walking in the street. I guess if I'd been one of them, I wouldn't have much cared about the people around and I would've walked past them without noticing them. 

However, when you look at this picture you are forced to consider these people and wonder: where does he come from? Where is she going? Why is she looking back? Is she waiting for someone? What is he doing in the middle of the street? And what is this old man doing staring in his shopping bag? Most importantly: who are these people? Well, they're just ordinary people living their lives. Just like you and me.