A body’s life, a life’s memories

Winter Journal by Paul Auster

I’ve been an Auster-fan ever since I first read The New York Trilogy in the late 1980s, which I re-read and reviewed here a couple of years ago. Between writing his novels, Auster also writes essays and volumes of memoir.

Winter Journal is a memoir largely told through the things that have happened to his body.  In his early sixties, Auster has become preoccupied with the first signs of old age – something his 74 year old actor friend Jean-Louis Trintignant put into perspective for him when Auster was 57…

“Paul, there’s just one thing I want to to tell you.  At fifty-seven, I felt old. Now, at seventy-four, I feel much younger than I did then.” You have no idea what he is trying to tell you, but you sense it is important to him, that he is attempting to share something of vital importance with you, and for that reason you do not ask him to explain what he means. For close to seven years now, you have continued to ponder his words, and although you still don’t know quite what to make of them, there have been glimmers, tiny moments when you feel you have almost penetrated the truth of what he was saying to you. Perhaps it is something as simple as this: that a man fears death more at fifty-seven than he does at seventy-four.

Auster starts by tellling his story through the things that have happened to his  body, an inventory of its scars – the one on his cheek which he got aged three and a half caused by having such fun sliding along a shiny floor that he never saw a protruding nail in a table leg; numerous other sporting ones – but only one broken bone.

He tells us everything, not sparing the details however painful –  the panic attacks that started after his mother’s death in 2002, and the car crash later that year that could have killed him, his wife and his family – he hasn’t driven since.

The other parallel track running through this memoir is a catalogue of all the homes in which Auster has lived his life, twenty-one of them, and thinking about the memories they invoke, about his parents, his friends, his girlfriends, his first wife (author Lydia Davis), his second (author Siri Hustvedt), his children, but most of all his mother, whom he obviously adored, and simultaneously wished he’d known better.

The book is written in the second person – addressing himself; it gives a real sense of intimacy to his story. We frequently pop backwards in time as he remembers new things, but the general impetus is forward towards Auster as he is now at sixty-four looking forwards to the rest of his life.

Auster is an unconventional, analytical and eloquent writer, and this unconventional memoir was a delight to read, he can look with humour at himself as well as being serious.  He is one of those writers whom I always enjoy whether in novels or other forms, regardless of the critic’s views, but I have to say this memoir was one of the very best I’ve read. (9.5/10)

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I was sent a US copy of this book by its publisher Henry Holt & Co. Thank you.
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:

Winter Journal Pub 6 Sept by Faber, Hardback 240 pages.
The New York Trilogy: “City of Glass”, “Ghosts” and “Locked Room” by Paul Auster

6 thoughts on “A body’s life, a life’s memories

  1. Karen says:

    I’ve never read Auster, but your review has certainly piqued my interest. I sense there’s a grain of truth in his friend’s comment about age.

    • gaskella says:

      Auster is an acquired taste as we discovered when we read his NYTrilogy in our book group. I’m glad to have acquired it though and he is possibly my favourite writer.

    • gaskella says:

      I’ll have to search out some of those who didn’t like it! I’d bet it’s because of the second person narrative. I’m an Auster-fan, so there’s nothing not to like for me.

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