If anyone could be considered an heir to Vladimir Nabokov’s legendary narrative trickery, it would be Paul Auster—a master of literary illusion whose novels have long been lauded for their intricate puzzles and bold subversion of traditional narrative structure. In recent years, though, Auster has used a lighter hand, and novels like The Brooklyn Follies suggested that he might be exchanging his signature postmodernism for more character-driven, even sentimental fiction. With his 15th novel, Auster has somehow balanced the two, creating in his winding maze of literary questions a searing, emotional bildungsroman.
Invisible opens in 1967 when Adam Walker, a bored Columbia undergraduate, is seduced, both literally and figuratively, by a charismatic Parisian couple he meets at a party—a visiting professor and his sad, sexy girlfriend. The professor makes Adam an incredible offer—financial backing for his own literary magazine. But Adam learns quickly that things that seem too good to be true are often just that. Forty years later, he contacts a former classmate, now a book editor, for help in telling his story—a life-changing incident, its aftermath and how it shaped his troubled life.
Perhaps his best trick is one of the oldest in the book—Auster alternates between narrative voices, telling the first section in the first person, the second in the second person and the third in the third person. With anyone else at the helm, this could feel like an MFA exercise gone awry. But Auster thoroughly engages with each voice and weaves them together so seamlessly that it becomes the most effective interrogation of narrative reliability in recent memory. At the end of the novel, it is literally impossible to understand, in the story’s many layers, the difference between fact and fiction.
With an overwhelming, often totally shocking story, Auster brings in the most universal, most difficult themes—guilt, love, anger, family and friendship, to name just a few. Powerful not only in form but also in feeling, Invisible is truly a masterpiece—Auster’s best, most complete effort in years.
Rebecca Shapiro writes from Brooklyn, New York.