Unprofessional reaction: I hated this book. It’s too clever by half, full of cute intertextual, metatextual jokes and tricks, and all too predictably and preeningly post-modern about the elusiveness of meaning, the fracturing of identity, and the gaps between signifieds and signifiers. It’s fiction as word- and mind- games, all metaphysics and no humanity.*
Professional reaction: This book is utterly unlike the other novels on my syllabus, and yet deliberately and intricately engaged with them and what they represent and investigate (I realized that all by myself, even before I read through this smart critical essay). You could say that it offers a philosophical and theoretical as well as literary response to the rest of the syllabus. In its own way, it takes the metaphysical premises and literary conventions of detective fiction more seriously than any of the other assigned works–and, again in its own, postmodern, self-conscious way, does more with them (or should I say, to them?). Pedagogically, I can certainly see the case for teaching it, and I’m sure I and my students would learn from the experience.
So here’s where I’m left for now: I hate the novel, I’d be happy never to read it again, it’s everything I don’t like about postmodern fiction (and theory)…but it just might be the right book for my course, and assuming I can learn to engage with the novel intellectually, my visceral dislike of it will either be rendered irrelevant or even subside. Maybe.
* Update: This review of Auster’s recent Man in the Dark over at the TLS tells me mine is not a wholly idiosyncratic response to Auster: “for the first time, perhaps, in an Auster novel the heart is more important than the head.”