Gloriously Fucked

J. Robert Lennon

  • 4321 by Paul Auster
    Faber, 866 pp, £20.00, January, ISBN 978 0 571 32462 0

Paul Auster’s new novel, 4321, is a lightly edited two-inch-thick Bildungsroman divided into four timelines, each a possible iteration of a single character’s life. That character is born at the end of a prologue consisting mostly of family prehistory: Russian Jews emigrate to New York and bear a child, Stanley; Stanley marries comely Rose, and they beget our protagonist, Archie Ferguson. From there on, the book is divided into eight long chapters, and each chapter into four interleaved subchapters. Each subchapter develops one possible future life for Ferguson: chapter 1.1 is on the same track as 2.1 and 3.1; 1.2 gives way to 2.2, then 3.2 and so on. Many of the novel’s characters are common to multiple timelines: Stanley always runs a furniture store, and Rose is usually some kind of photographer. There’s a snobbish Aunt Mildred, a trio of unscrupulous uncles and a girl called Amy, who is sometimes Archie’s sweetheart, sometimes his friend and sometimes his stepsister.

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