on November 1, 2008
I don't know what it is about Auster's writing style, but I enjoy it very much. Having recently finished Leviathan, I confess that this was one book I had a hard time putting down. The book is party mystery novel part romance.
The plot focuses on the death of a man and the story of the dead man's life as told by his friend. His friend, coincidental enough, is an author as well.
I realize that I'm not doing the book justice. And that's a shame because it really is a good book. Auster does a great job of weaving a story of one man's life and how his life becomes inter-connected to all those around him. At the heart of this novel though is the simple fact that it is a good story. Auster does a good job of weaving a story and keeping the reader interested. At no point in time did I want to put the book down and forget about it. I was drawn in to the characters, the location, and the plot.
If you've read other Auster novels, then it is likely you have either read this one already or are about to read it. And if you're new to Aster's books then do yourself a favour and pick this one up.
on January 8, 2003
Paul Auster has to be one of the cleverest writers around, and one of the most rewarding. "Leviathan" tells the story of Peter Aaron's 15-year friendship with Benjamin Sachs - a wunderkind novelist and conscientious objector who, ultimately through violent protest, makes his political convictions a part of his everyday life. Running from the mid-seventies to 1990, this is a tour through Reagan's America and its somnambulistic abandonment of every value that makes America great. Once again, Auster usefully blurs the boundaries of autobiography and fiction, making his unlikely tale feel real. And his choice of a 'mystery story' setup and personal tone are perfect: with its largely undramatized sequences presented in the casual, reflective style of a memoir, it never gets preachy despite its political intent; and our desire to uncover the mystery of just how and why Ben died pulls us effortlessly through the labyrinth to the end. For me, the final scene was remarkably touching - made even more so because it fails to pull any of the metafictive tricks Auster dangles before us as prospects in the opening pages. Compulsively readable, perfectly pitched, and ultimately about something important - novels don't get much better than this.
on September 14, 2002
Leviathan is a fascinating book, and it clips along at a very quick pace - I read it over the course of a couple of study halls. It cannot, however, hold a candle to a book such as The New York Trilogy (my favorite Auster novel, and the standard to which all others are compared). Leviathan is complex, but ends up feeling rushed, particularly the second half. The characters are well crafted, but are too frequently cast aside as the plot rushes forward. Auster needed to trim the book down, or expand upon it.
Despite the hurried feeling, Levithan is nonetheless a very interesting novel, and does a wonderful job of bringing up questions about America and the American citizen's identity within America. It is fitting that the book is dedicated to Don DeLillo, a writer who frequently confronts this sort of question in his work.
All in all, an excellent read. Despite the adrenaline rush, Leviathan is steeped in a sense of philosophical melancholy. Whether or not there is hope for America, Paul Auster proves there is hope for American literature.
on April 25, 2002
A Leviathan is a "sea monster" or whale or "whopper" and, by extension, an euphemism for "lie" or "liar". It is not the title of this book but the title of a novel by a character in the book. Leviathan is also the title of Thomas Hobbes famous tome which examines what is meant by "freedom", power, the nature of human thought, and the exercise of power of humans in constant motion. As an artifact, Paul Auster's work has been polished until it sparkles and, like a dream, perhaps surreal, seems more real than waking life. Accordingly, I found it memorable with the writer, Auster, the power to make this work resonate. I thought his characterisation was vivid, even the least of them, such as little Maria who, at five years of age, exercised her power in destroying a relationship between her mother, Lillian, and novelist and serial bomber Benjamin Sachs. Sachs is on a journey of redemption and forgiveness and charity after killing Lillian's husband, and Maria's father, Reed Dimaggio, teacher and environmental activist.
There are a number of stories within the novel and the characters themselves have stories of their own. Beautiful Lillian had, for example, "made three different stories" of her break up with husband Reed, " one of the stories might have been real. It was even possible that all of them were real - but there again, it was just possible that all of them were false" (p. 185).
The mosaic of the various yarns do contribute to the overall pattern and do come to a satisfying conclusion.
Nevertheless, the concerns with co-incidence, chance, truth, reality, and the capacity for self deception by humans are abiding themes. There is a special thanks at the front of the book to Sophie Calle for permission to mingle fact with fiction(!!!???).
All right already, I may be a bit peculiar but I did also enjoy the erotic element of this work. Maybe it is my appreciation of film noir heroines.
An engrossing and entertaining read. Highly recommended.
on April 23, 2002
Paul Auster is a blatantly theoretical novelist. He dissects and deconstructs literary genres and trends with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker. But some accuse him of abandoning the delight of a story for a view from the ivory tower. I tend to disagree, for the most part, but offer up "Leviathan" as an example of an Auster book that's both a page-turner and a think-piece.
For po-mo lit-lovers, Auster is in fine form. His modus operandi of casting himself as the literary quasi-detective is in full effect here. Narrator Peter Aaron (check those initials) is married to lovely Iris (Auster is married to novelist *Siri* Hustvedt). He is a writer by trade. "My books are published... people read them, and I don't have any idea who they are... as long as they have my book in their hands, my words are the only reality that exists for them," he says, defensively.
The book he is currently writing -- and the book "you" are currently holding -- is an examination of his recently deceased friend, Benjamin Sachs ("Six days ago, a man blew himself up by the side of the road in Northern Wisconsin," reads the novel's enticing opening line). Sachs has enough vaguely roguish qualities to make "Leviathan" a fascinating picaresque. But he's also an idealist, and fiercely intelligent. He's a writer manque, whose first novel blew the critics away but was a failure with readers. Sachs is a character who exists mostly in absentia, periodically jumping back into Aaron's life to offer up enough details to tantalize his friend, and keep the reader off-balance. "Even though Sachs confided a great deal to me over the years of our friendship," Aaron says. "I don't claim to have more than a partial understanding of who he was. I can't dismiss the possibility that... the truth is quite different from what I imagine it to be." This is Auster playing with the concept of the unreliable narrator, only here the narrator is aware that he's unreliable. An interesting concept, that.
But "Leviathan" is not just conceptual. It's loaded with intriguing personalities, and a lot of implicit suspense. And Auster's habit of digressing from the story to discuss an interesting tangent yields at least one fascinating sequence. Sachs' novel, entitled "The New Colossus", is summarized by Aaron. Auster spares no expense, creating an appealing advertisement for a historical page-turner that doesn't exist. But within that summary he also explicates some of his own novel's grander themes.
The main one, and it's all over the place here, is America as a place of infinite possibilities for freedom but a failure in terms of realizing those possibilities. "America has lost its way," Aaron writes, when talking about the message of Sachs' book. "Thoreau was the one man who could read the compass for us, and now that he is gone, we have no hope of finding ourselves again." Further examination reveals that the Statue of Liberty, as an icon or just a concept, is "Leviathan's" dominant motif. It appears in Sachs' book and in a poignant memory from his childhood. The occasion of her hundredth birthday forms the background for the novel's great turning point. And if not for the Lady's presence, the climax of the book would be hokey and overwrought. As it is, she lends it dignity and class, amplifying its intensity and greatness.
Using spare but consequential prose, Auster has written another novel that straddles the line between pulp and intricate fiction. It never panders to the unintellectual audience, but also never dumbs itself down. And it reaches that fine balance with seemingly relative ease, a trademark of Auster's other works. Try this one first before jumping to "The New York Trilogy" or "The Music of Chance". I dare say you won't be disappointed.
on October 23, 2001
I really enjoyed reading this book, even though it initially seemed like a rehash of themes Auster developed more fully, and I would say more succesfully, in _The New York Trilogy_. The characters in this book are woefully underdeveloped. I agreed with another individual who spoke about the book when she said that the women, in particular, only fitted traditionally sexist stereotypes that all too often plague contemporary fiction. Perhaps Auster wants to make the women in his book the spitting image of what most of us consider film noir women. Rather than force the reader to encounter those stereotypes, though, Auster simply uses them within his prose.
I truly love the amount of introspection in this book and its almost brilliant consideration of the part fiction inevitably plays in our lives and in the reconstruction of memory. Benjamin Sach's almost pathological need to create meaning around situations that may or may not have any meaning tied to them is especially interesting. The ambiguity of causation within the novel creates many far reaching consequences. It seems that Auster is attempting to show us that no matter whether something caused something else, our belief in particular explanations have very real consequences.
Auster fans should, by all means, read this book. It reconsiders important themes developed by Auster in other books, and reincorporates them into a discussion of terrorism. We find an author who leaves his practice to become a terrorist. We find a friend who, in his own way, practices a sort of literary terrorism meant to divert the attention of the investigators. What if this book, written by the main character in the novel to the FBI, was intended to divert their attention away from finding one singular explanation? What if, the narrator isn't completely reliable? What has Auster left out? These questions make reading _Leviathan_ a very enjoyable experience. I would suggest, though, that people who want to start reading Auster read this book first. Then, go on to _The New York Trilogy_. I must confess that after reading NYT, I was somewhat dissapointed with this book.
on August 28, 2001
An excellent novel from one of the best writers in contemporary American literature.
The protagonist Benjamin Sachs, ex-con war resister turned brilliant novelist, is one of Auster's most creative characters. At times the relationship between Sachs and the book's narrator Peter Aaron reminded me of Kerouac's Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise. I often find it annoying when novelists choose writers as their protagonists, but Auster pulls it off.
In his novels, Auster manages to follow a pattern without becoming formulistic. As is often the case in his other work, Leviathan features wild coincidences, cat-and-mouse detective chases and oddball characters who struggle to understand the motives for their own actions.
The main flaw in this novel, in my opinion, is the development of Reed Dimaggio. Although he only appears in one scene, he is an important character that hovers like a ghost over the final third of the novel. Auster sketches the outline of a fascinating character, but never gives us enough information to fill in between the lines, and we're never able to understand why he reacts the way that he does in that one fatal scene. Dimaggio is a vital link in the bizarre chain of events that brings the novel to its conclusion, but in that we're never able to make sense of his behavior the rest of the pieces don't quite fall into place.
That said, I found Leviathan to be a entertaining and remarkably intelligent novel which I read in 100 page gulps. Auster does not have many equals in current American fiction. Leviathan is clever novel with big themes, in which everyone is a little bit crazy, we're all a random mishap away from true madness, and isolated though we may be in this world we find that we're all connected in ways that we least expect. Highly recommended.
on June 12, 2001
Even though I've enjoyed Paul Auster's more recent screenplays, and the movies that came from them, it's a shame he abandoned novel writing as his primary mode of expression. He reached a real peak with LEVIATHAN, one that he's never matched since. The visual image in this novel is the Statue of Liberty. It's theme is how terrifying REAL freedom is, and how desperately each of us will conspire to avoid facing it in our lives. It's a brilliant piece of writing, and the best of Auster's line of truly interesting and unsettling stories.
If you're just starting out with Auster, though, you should take the time to read his novels from the beginning. You'll notice a couple of interesting things, if you do. First, Auster has said that he tried to start each of his novels where the last one left off. For instance, MOON PALACE ends with a man driving across the USA, and THE MUSIC OF CHANCE begins with a man doing just that. Then, a quirky touch by Auster, there is an umbrella that appears at some point in each of his novels, and you'll watch it go through a kind of evolution as the novels go by. And, anyway, these books contain some really fine writing.
Auster probably won't be remembered as one of the GREAT American authors (though I think Don Delillo [to whom LEVIATHAN is dedicated] very well might!). But Auster is very much in touch with the Zeitgeist of the times. HIGHLY recommended!
on January 16, 2001
Leviathan is the first book I have read by Paul Auster, and I found it absorbing and compelling, if a bit thin. It would be hard for this subject and structure NOT to be suspenseful -- the narrator is writing against time, trying to get the book finished before the FBI figures out what he knows, and we are told enough about the situation in the beginning to make us wonder how it all happened. How does a man who had been a successful writer end up killing himself while building a bomb? And what part does the narrator play in it all? These questions carry us through, and Auster's brisk, spare writing serves the suspense well.
Unfortunately, the writing doesn't serve the characters very well. This is not a novel which will leave you with piercing portraits of unique people. Nor will it give you any great insights into modern life, or the meaning of the universe. That's okay, there are other books which do that, writers who are capable of tackling bigger stuff than Auster (check out Norman Rush, Catherine Bush, or the person to whom Auster has dedicated Leviathan, Don DeLillo). The virtues of Leviathan are its oddities; it's an entertaining novel with literary aspirations which it can't deliver on, but that doesn't mean the book's not entertaining.
The novel's greatest virtue, perhaps, is its cleverness. It is a book about coincidences, about the improbable connections which zap through our lives. It is fruitless to criticize the book for being improbable, because that very improbability is its whole reason for being. Auster is audacious in his plotting, and he moves with speed and suspense through the narrative's many convolutions.
on October 4, 1999
After reading The New York Trilogy, I immediately had to buy this book. Auster continues obsessing over certain ideas clearly weaving much of his own life into his novels. The mind of Auster had already grabbed me by the time I read this book and continues to interest me after reading it.
However, much of the criticism of Leviathan leveled by other reviewers is warranted. He does seem to make the book a tad Hollywood in its action at times. Auster is constantly left piecing together tangent stories, for example when he describes the artistic experiments of one of the narrator's lovers. He attempts to piece these stories together under the guise of style, a "music of chance" type thing that brings the thousand stories of the naked city into one novel. In retrospect, this seems a little forced and contrived to possibly meet publishing deadlines for his next novel. Perhaps he should have broke this book up into three related novellas like The New York Trilogy.
One cannot escape, however, his haunting narrative and interesting scenes. The bits and pieces of the plot are so interesting in and of themselves (if not as a whole) that this book is well worth reading. This sit-tradgety forces the reader into eccentric circumstance, closes out each quandrum for the protagonist without true resolution, and leaves the reader disturbed. However, the peculiar thing is the sense of beauty Auster always seems to convey in his somewhat dark prose. He makes the view of the world as an uncertain place filled with vague human purposes enchanting.
Leviathan probably will not go down as Auster's greatest book, nor as his best introductory reading. However, this work is worth reading because it is very Auster. For lack of a better conclusion, a mediocre book by him is ten times better than most of what's written today (except maybe Don DeLillo whom the book was devoted to).