Back in August I heard there was a new Paul Auster memoir out and rushed to order my copy. However, the same day I read a review in The Guardian that stopped me. It was so negative. The reviewer, J Robert Lennon, wondered why the publishers, Faber, hadn’t saved Auster from himself by declining it.
Well, reader, I bought the book and thoroughly enjoyed it.
In Winter Journal, Auster in his mid-sixties, looks back over his life, the life of his body. This is not a continuous narrative, but fragments that move in and out of past and present. We get a vividly dramatized scene of the three-year-old Paul sliding across the flood and finding his face skewered on a jutting nail. We get a tour of all the 20+ apartments he’s lived in and along the way his development as a writer.
More recently there’s a near-death car crash that made him give up driving. There are glimpses of his two marriages, in particular his last thirty years with the writer, Siri Hustvedt. It’s all written in the second person, as if Auster is addressing his body.
Earlier this month I heard Auster speak about Winter Journal at the Shaw Theatre, London. He explained that ‘Winter Journal is an example of one human life, focussed on the body because I wanted to reflect upon what it is to be a body in space and time.’
The second person felt right, he said because ‘ “You” allows a dialogue with the self as intimate stranger.’ The essays of Montaigne had inspired him. He admired the way in which Montaigne had been brave enough to talk about everything to do with himself.
Of the unkind review he said he couldn’t understand the charge of narcissism, ‘I’m generally talking about my failings not broadcasting my own greatness.’ Which is true.
Writing, for Auster, is everything to do with the body. ‘Writing is a physical act. I write longhand then type it up on typewriter. I’m physically drained by a day’s writing.’
Asked about aging and whether a writer’s best work is done in youth, he replied: ‘No rules, no rules.’ He was nearly 40 when he published New York Trilogy.
I wonder if Lennon, barely 40, may have a phobia of aging? I can’t think how else to account for his attack on what is a searching and engaging book. If you’re interested in Auster’s fiction, I think you’ll find these fragments well worth reading.
He’s already finished a companion work to Winter Journal - reflections on the intellectual and spiritual life. Can’t wait.