'I was looking for a quiet place to die. Someone recommended Brooklyn, and so the next morning I travelled down there from Westchester to scope out the terrain ...' So begins Paul Auster's remarkable new novel, The Brooklyn Follies. Set against the backdrop of the contested US election of 2000, it tells the story of Nathan and Tom, an uncle and ...
'I was looking for a quiet place to die. Someone recommended Brooklyn, and so the next morning I travelled down there from Westchester to scope out the terrain ...' So begins Paul Auster's remarkable new novel, The Brooklyn Follies. Set against the backdrop of the contested US election of 2000, it tells the story of Nathan and Tom, an uncle and nephew double-act. One in remission from lung cancer, divorced, and estranged from his only daughter, the other hiding away from his once-promising academic career, and, indeed, from life in general. Having accidentally ended up in the same Brooklyn neighbourhood, they discover a community teeming with life and passion. When Lucy, a little girl who refuses to speak, comes into their lives, there is suddenly a bridge from their pasts that offers them the possibility of redemption. Infused with character, mystery and humour, these lives intertwine and become bound together as Auster brilliantly explores the wider terrain of contemporary America - a crucible of broken dreams and of human folly. "Auster at the top of his game. This superb novel about human folly turns out to be tremendously wise." (New Statesman).
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The Brooklyn Follies begins with Nathan Glass moving to Brooklyn. He says it?s to find a place to die, though as the novel goes on it is clear he?s looking to begin a new life. Through chance (an Auster staple) he comes across his nephew Tom, and through a variety of lovely sequences, reconnects with others in his family. If this book is more straightforward than some of his earlier works, it doesn?t make it less poignant and in a lot of ways, Auster is telling a more mainstream story here. It?s about a man rediscovering what?s important to him after a bout with cancer, a failed marriage and a falling out with his daughter. It?s about what people will really do when they are given a second chance. And it?s about hope. This hope, of course ? because it?s an Auster book ? is not laced with daisies and candy canes. It?s more of delayed trauma. That?s because, as it becomes clearer as you work towards the end of the book, that Auster has put specific dates into his chapters for a reason. The book starts around the Bush-Gore election of 2000 and ends in September 2001. (This same device of driving towards 9/11 was used in an even more dramatic way in Nelson DeMille?s Night Fall, by the way.) I will add that Auster?s politics ? which seem to be identical to mine ? sometimes get in the way of the plot. Hearing Glass tell his girlfriend to always vote Democrat and that George Bush is an evil idiot is nice, but it distracted from the story in an unnecessary way.
All that being said, The Brooklyn Follies is a great book, refreshing and rewarding. If it is not the dark, creepy tales Auster has shown us before, that?s okay too.
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