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'I was looking for a quiet place to die. Someone recommended Brooklyn, and so the next morning I traveled down there from Westchester to scope out the terrain ...' -- Nathan Glass
Unlike the heroes to be found in the books by Paulo Coelho, our narrator failed to take risks, failed to follow his destiny, and as a consequence suffered for the rest of his life.
Now nearing the end of his days, our narrator decides to set down his life and life's little foibles in a book he calls The Book of Human Folly.
Although writing from the opposite end of the spectrum to Paulo Coelho, Paul Auster reaches the same conclusions, he recounts little anecdotes, like, for example, the doctor to whom our narrator sold life insurance.
His mother had sent him to New York, away from the Nazi atrocities. The mother living on her wits, manages to survive. Our young man, now a practising doctor, invites his mother to visit. She arrives by plane, the son is unable to pick her up due to a medical emergency. The next patient who is wheeled in is his mother, she was in a head on crash in the cab that picked her up. She never regained consciousness.
Novels by Paul Auster are self-referential, the classic example, The New York Trilogy. [see BCID 5339576]
Paul Auster lives in Brooklyn, the title of this novel, The Brooklyn Follies, a novel about the foibles of human existence.
A study of life through Edgar Allan Poe and Henry David Thoreau, a map of the inner sanctum we withdraw into from the world around us, an exploration of the mind.
Poe withdrew into his fantasies, Thoreau into wilderness. Both died young, both thought the world around them had gone to pot. A few years later the American Civil War.
A comparison between the two writers, short stories by Poe, 'The Philosophy of Furniture', 'Landor's Cottage', 'The Domain of Arnheim'. How do these compare with Walden. Short stories I had not heard of, which had me reaching for my collected works of Poe, only I was not home when I read The Brooklyn Follies. I was far from home and had borrowed The Brooklyn Follies from a little village library, in the small village of Washingborough, not far from the historic city of Lincoln.
The Brooklyn Follies consists of tales of the folk that populate Brooklyn, interspersed with the little anecdotes, that are more the realm of Paulo Coelho.
For example, the anecdote of Wittgenstein, who after he wrote Tractatus whilst serving as a soldier in the First World War, thought he had said all there was to say on philosophy and went to work as a schoolmaster in a remote Austrian mountain village. As a schoolmaster, he was a disaster. He was ill-tempered, beat the children, often severely. He went back to his first love philosophy, at Cambridge. Twenty years on, he sought out his former pupils and begged their forgiveness, but none would.
Our narrator teams up with two other lost souls, his nephew Tom, and the owner of a bookshop, Tom's boss Harry.
Harry is a con man, he likes to trick people. As a child he dreams of creating an encyclopedia where all the facts were wrong. He must have been dreaming of Wikipedia!
Our trio grasp at the straws life has to offer them. Just beyond their horizon is their destiny, but they never quite make it.
Halfway through The Brooklyn Follies, Harry proposes an audacious scam. In the hands of a good thriller writer it would have made a good thriller, at the very best a decent little short short story, but all we get is a little light relief in what at times is an otherwise very dreary novel.
What is it that fate, the gods, deal out for us on the roulette of life?
Just when it seems for Nathan, his life has turned the corner, the first of the hijacked planes crash into the Twin Towers at the World Trade Centre.
The Brooklyn Follies starts out as at best a dreary account of life in Brooklyn, interspersed with a few interesting anecdotes. It starts to improve when little nine year old Lucy, quite literally, walks into our trio's life.
Comparisons are at best meaningless, if you try, The Brooklyn Follies is a grave disappointment compared with the promise of The New York Trilogy, and even that paled by the time you reached the third story. The Brooklyn Follies lacks the Paul Auster weird of The New York Trilogy, though still has plenty of Brooklyn weird. [see BCID 5339576]
Although greatly dissimilar to The New York Trilogy, The Brooklyn Follies has all the Paul Auster trademarks. A lost soul trying to discover himself through his writings, coincidence or synchronicity, appearance under one guise or another of the writers Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Franz Kafka.
I do not know why, other than the setting in New York, but I am reminded of The 25th Hour by David Benioff. [see BCID 5484626]
A modern fairy tale!
Paul Auster (1947- ) was born in New Jersey. After attending Columbia University he lived in France for four years. Since 1974, he has published poems, essays, short stories, novels and screenplays. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
WILD RELEASE NOTES:
Strictly speaking not actually released in the little village library at Washingborough, near the historic city of Lincoln. The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster is available on loan from the library.