After a long struggle to receive mainstream publication, Paul Auster’s first few novels were a genuinely significant contribution to American letters, his patented mix of postmodernism, deadpan comedy and metatextual homage to Kafka, Hamsun, Melville and Hawthorne so singular it invited parody. Among these books, The New York Trilogy and The Music of Chance seem likely to last many years from now.
But the second half of his career has proved more problematic. Seemingly tiring of his own shtick, he spent a long time dismantling what made him great, sometimes to powerful effect (Oracle Night), but more usually in a way that seemed designed deliberately to test his biggest fans. His writer protagonists used to be detectives manqué, trapped in compelling noir narratives; in later novels they’re more likely to fret about their membership of PEN.