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Unlike Paul Auster, I've always been fond of the adverb 'why'. 'Where', 'when', and 'what' have never appealed to me as much as the magical 'why' and the deeply interesting 'how'. Auster, however, doesn't share my passions.
While listening to his latest novel Invisible, told by Auster himself during approximately seven hours on six CDs, I nevertheless find myself enjoying the lack of 'how's and 'why's. Auster as a storyteller is captivating and simply good, just like the writer Paul Auster. Even though the story, a tale of two men who meet by chance and who continue to develop a complicated relationship under strange circumstances, did not get under my skin, Auster's storytelling did. The act of listening to somebody "telling their own story" can be a pleasurable experience per se, and with Paul Auster's smokey and straightforward voice, he stands out like a veritable auteur in the audio book genre. The characters come alive with the sound of the voice who created them, and there are no sound effects or dramatic pauses to disturb the power of the listener's imagination; the story is simply told.
And the story in this case could be described as a mix of crime, romance, psychological games and social criticism, among other things. In the summer of love, New York 1967, the young student Adam Walker meets an eerie European professor, who offers the emerging poet Adam an irresistible deal: you'll create a literary magazine, and I'll pay for it. The plot starts there, and ends in a completely different time and place. The twists, turns, surprises and delayed disclosures that follow are too many to summarize here; let's just say that things happen, and they make for an interesting web of time, place, memories, stories and questions. How do we know what is true? Who knows what happened, when memory is notoriously untrustworthy? Who, and whose story, can we trust? And, what happens to the invisible stories around us?
These thought-provoking ontological questions aside, the wish to make sense of it all presents itself for me, and it doesn't get satisfied. I didn't expect it to, Auster being the kind of author who believes in chance, randomness and coincidences, but nevertheless I want it. This reaction has always intrigued me, and I often reflect upon what this need for structure, order, and manageability does with my ability to listen receptively.
Thus, writing this review, trying to think about Invisible, I realize that my memory would have needed some 'why's in order to arrange the story, and make it retrievable and re-tellable. As a psychologist, I start wondering how this need affects my dialogues and general interactions with others. Can I let what is invisible to me stay invisible, or do I fill in the blanks and make the connections by asking questions that may not be answerable?
The six-pack of CDs that I've shared with the renowned Paul Auster has been well spent seven hours. Novels like this one have the capacity to engender more professionally relevant reflections and vital questions than most textbooks on psychology. It inspires the parts of the brain that imagine, and the processes that make up active listening. My experience of Invisible was not mind-blowing, but still stimulating. Only reluctantly did I put the headphones away to change discs. Invisible is worth listening to.
© 2010 Minna Forsell
Minna Forsell is a psychologist, graduated from the University of Stockholm. She currently works in a psychiatric health care center in Volda, Western Norway.