Tuesday 26 January 2010

Man in the dark: Review

Man in the Dark
By Paul Auster
Published by Picador
Published in 2008
ISBN: 0312428510

I purchased this book myself and am reviewing it of my own accord.

We've all been there. Wide awake in the middle of the night with sleep taunting us from the other side of the room, just out of reach. Thoughts, anxieties and guilt swirl together into a broiling mire of self-loathing that slows seconds to minutes and minutes to hours. Exhausted but unable to sleep, everything seems worse at 02:27 than it does in the clear light of day.

Such is the predicament of August Brill in Paul Auster's novel Man in the Dark. Unable to sleep and haunted by his thoughts he desperately tries to avoid them by making up stories to tell himself as the night drags on. In his story he creates a parallel America where 9/11 never happened and instead of being at war with Iraq, America is in the throes of her own civil war after New York seceded from the USA in 2000. Yet, try as he might to escape from reality through his fictitious imaginings, real life and echoes of what which he seeks to ignore seep into his story. The hero of his story, Owen, is exported into parallel America to carry out an important mission: find and assassinate the man who is responsible for this civil war, none other than our narrator August Brill himself.

August isn't the only one having trouble sleeping, however. His daughter and granddaughter with whom he lives are troubled by their own issues: his daughter is unable to get over her divorce and his granddaughter is suffering as a result of her boyfriend being brutally murdered. As the night rolls on, the futility of his resistance becomes clear and Brill reveals more and more about their lives.

This novel takes a closer look at the inner torment of those who live in the shadow of the events of 9/11 but does so in a way that doesn't give in to sentimentality and idealisation, nor does it allow the events of 9/11 to dominate the narrative. People's lives have been always had tough patches and grief, guilt and alienation is nothing new but the events of 9/11 lend a new layer to everyday problems. It's also interesting to read this post-9/11 novel and note the effect that a few years have had when comparing this to other post-9/11 novels. Earlier novels were more raw but with the distance of time, the response to the events of that awful day appear, to me at least, to becoming more measured and reflective.

A well-paced and engrossing read that deals with the heart of human emotion and relationship, this is a novel that will satisfy those who like a book driven by the characters but won't disappoint those who like a bit of action and intrigue either. Even though at 190 pages it's a relatively short read, as you reach the final pages you feel as if you have indeed been up all night in the darkened bedroom with August, coming out of it exhausted but all the better for the experience.


  1. Very interesting! You say well-paced and engrossing, and it sounds like it really might be, but was there any part of you that found the novel tough to get into because of all the "action" happening in people's minds?

    I've had this book on my shelf for years (I bought it after reading and LOVING Auster's The Brooklyn Follies) and have never given it much serious consideration. Maybe that was a grave error?

  2. I am definitely all about character driven books! This sounds great! I feel like I will especially enjoy it since I was living in New York (literally a block north of the evactuation line) when 9/11 happened, and I actually watched as the towers fell. I had friends (that came to live with me) that had to run from debris.
    Anyhow, thanks for the heads up about this book; I'm very interested in reading it!

  3. Thanks for the interesting review! :-)

  4. Love that first paragraph! This does sound like an interesting book.

  5. @Greg - I would definitely recommend you give it a whirl, it's only 192 pages after all! I didn't find it hard to get into the "mind action" as it wasn't told like that. I was like slipping into a reverie alongside Brill - you slip into daydream was pretty seamless in my opinion. Try it - if you loved something else written by him, there's no good reason not to like this one. His writing is still fantastic!

    @ Brizmus - Wow, you were right there when it happened! That must have been surreal. Have you read any other post 9/11 literature? What do you think of it?

    @Shannon - And thank YOU for the lovely comment :)

    @Lisa - Thanks! I do try to make my reviews interesting :) It's a very interesting book - the idea of parallel America was such an interesting one. A million miles away from reality but then not so inconceivable...