Oracle Night

Oracle Night by Paul Aster


I’ve been reading so many books nowadays, on and off, that I even forget the good ones I read. For example, it required a google search to bring back the name of the title (and the author!) of Oracle Night. The only thing I could remember was that the cover featured a blue notebook, and that the first name of the author was Paul. Amazingly, ‘paul blue notebook‘ returned the book title, and another search for that led me to the Amazon page. Google is magic in such cases, and to think our children will take this for granted :-).

Well, now on to the book… ;-). As a rule, I don’t like surrealism in writing… it looks okay when you see it in art (and even then you have to squint and so on) but in a book I can barely stand the layer within layer of meaning that every word seemingly implies. So to pull such a thing off without coming across as ‘intellectual’ is a fine art for any author and Auster does that well.

What is surreal in a book? Well in this case, it’s the technique of a story within a story. The protoganist, a struggling novelist Sidney Orr buys a blue notebook and immediately, seemingly bewitched by it, begins a story about a man who after a near-death experience walks out on his old life and starts anew. Orr’s wife Grace however, starts acting strangely after Orr commences his story. The novel is a fine interplay between the novel within the novel, the menage a trois of Grace, Sidney, and his mentor Trause, and between it all the small blue notebook that so enigmatically shapes the events inside it, and even many things in the real world that Orr lives in. And to add to that, Auster’s book has a very familiar blue cover 🙂

Like all such books ought to be, it’s an experiment in collating unrelated things and finding a larger and deeper whole from it. Surrealism in art works because it’s theorized that that’s how the mind works… the few small flashes of insight that we get everyday (and which allows us to learn… anything) are from unconnected things, and most often such works are trying to explore the essence of intuition. Auster succeeds because he doesn’t delve too deeply into it. He takes a very simple situation, introduces a few random variables, and lets the story evolve. The sudden insight that Orr has in the end about his wife (which interestingly he does not validate) is perhaps due to the story that he evolves in the blue notebook. The reader is led through his process of discovery, and after that, when Orr is free of the spell of the notebook, we are free as well… to imagine what will happen in the delicious open ending that Auster provides.

This book is a decidedly special one. I like.

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