The Rich Harvest of the Random

By de Falbe, John | The Spectator, November 5, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Rich Harvest of the Random


de Falbe, John, The Spectator


THE BROOKLYN FOLLIES by Paul Auster Faber, £16.99, pp. 304, ISBN 0571224970 . £13.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

There is a delightful moment in this novel when Nathan, the narrator, is standing on one side of the street with his nephew, Tom, and they see Nancy Mazzucchelli on the other side. Tom thinks of her as the BPM, the Beautiful Perfect Mother, and he would never dare approach. Nathan simply walks over and starts talking to her. Characters do things like this in Auster novels -- they assert themselves over destiny with clear logic and sunny optimism; they know what they want for lunch and they ask for it. The moment is delightful, however, because what animates Auster's work is the unexpected. The reader knows that Nathan's action will alter the sequence of events, but he knows too that other events will intervene to make the consequences quite different from what the protagonists anticipate.

Divorced and retired, Nathan has come to Brooklyn 'looking for a quiet place to die'. One day he finds Tom, whom he has not seen for several years, working at the cash register of a neighbourhood bookstore.

What follows is a succession of accidents from which they bounce back and forth, imposing order where they can. Tom's niece Lucy turns up suddenly, apparently intending to stay with him, but since she won't speak and she is only nine, the situation is problematic. They try taking her to a female relation in Vermont but they never get there. Instead they are holed up at the Chowder Inn for a few days, which they like so much that they co-opt Harry, Tom's boss, a New York queen whose past is not what it seems, into a plan to buy it. The plan is derailed by Harry's sudden death, but this has repercussions that make it seem as if everyone is going to live happily ever afterwards. …

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