- Hardcover: 880 pages
- Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (31 January 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0571324622
- ISBN-13: 978-0571324620
- Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 5 x 23.4 cm
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #89,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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4 3 2 1 Hardcover – 31 Jan 2017
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Auster truly is a master of his art. (Harper's Bazaar)
[Auster is] ... A joy to read. (The Economist)
A master of the modern American fable (The Independent)
Auster's writing is stunning. (Spectator)
A remarkable writer whose work needs to be read in totality (Sunday Herald)
There is still a hint of the magical in the every day events that he chronicles. (Tom Cox The Times)
Auster's dazzling 880-page, brick-like 17th novel is, according to many, his greatest so far. In this ambitiously wide-angled panorama of American life between 1947 and 1971, we follow Archie Ferguson, a smart New Jersey kid, along four alternative destinies. An immersive, challenging read. (Financial Times)
Paul Auster's first novel in seven years. His greatest, most provocative, most heartbreaking, most satisfying work. A sweeping story of birthright and possibility, of love and the fullness of life itself.
'One of the great writers of our time' San Francisco Chronicle
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4 3 2 1 is an ambitious work that absolutely experiments with style and execution. It is extremely well written, meticulously organized, and clearly a labor of love. This is an important novel due to its sheer moxie; it not only challenges well-established conventions in the field of literature, it summarily ignores them.
But, even with all of that being said, it missed the mark for me. At 866 pages, 4 3 2 1 proved too much for this reader. As you know, Auster is an avid baseball fan, and I definitely felt like I needed a scorecard for this epic volume.
Without spoiling too much, this novel imagines the four possible lives of a single man. We follow him from boyhood all the way to death. There are many touchstones that are obviously invariable from life to life, but there are also several deviations that alter one life drastically from another. It's a fascinating premise, one that we've all thought about from time to time. What if my parents had separated? What if I'd chosen a different school? What if I had fallen into that pit and been paralyzed? So many "what ifs" in life ... Auster delves deeply into this notion while leaving no detail unexplored.
But, like Annie Proulx's Barkskins, those nuanced details can overwhelm the reader to the point of provoking disengagement. At least, that's what happened in my case.
Furthermore, if I'm being honest, Ferguson (the main character) is not especially interesting. No matter which life we address, Ferguson is a bit aloof, a bit too precocious, a bit unlikable. Well, perhaps "unlikable" is too strong of a word. I would never describe him as "likable," though. Keep in mind, I don't believe a character has to be "good" in the moral sense to be "likable." There have been plenty of "bad" characters that I thought were incredibly charismatic.
On the subject of morality, be warned ... there is a lot of sex in this book -- more than any Paul Auster book I've ever read. There is straight sex, gay sex, committed sex, casual sex, oral sex, anal sex ... you get the idea. The sex often seemed to me as forced. It never quite struck me as organic to the story.
While I found this to be a relevant addition to the author's library because it broke new ground for an already inventive artist, it did not hold my attention. While the writing is masterful, it failed to capture my imagination. And while the characters are pounding with life, none of them seemed to take hold in my own.
Which is not to say I always enjoyed it - I think this is five stars as an author's vision. At no point did I doubt this was exactly what Paul Auster wanted to present. But - it is 880 pages, and boy did I feel it. And about page 450 I felt it did slow down - it got less interesting the older Archie Ferguson became and he became embroiled in what you'd expect of someone in his early 20s. The writing is very, very dense - Auster is determined to describe every breath of his main character. As I said, that feels like a throwback to the dense, deep styles of an earlier time - so I respect it, even if I didn't love it.
As for the book's central idea - the four "lives" of Ferguson - I liked it and at the end I understood the point (actually, I understood the point about halfway through, maybe earlier). What hinges do all our lives turn on? Is there one choice that someone else makes that turned it all on our head and sends us down one path instead of another? Probably - so Auster has examined that good luck/bad luck dynamic. I was less satisfied with how he tied all these plots together - I guess he had to end the book, but I felt slightly cheated at the end. On the other hand, I was also happy it was over.
As you can tell, I felt two ways about this book - five stars for epic scope and writer's vision and stamina, and often three stars for my actual experience. I think a specific audience will LOVE this book - those who can buy into the pure density of this story. An audience who likes breezy page-turners will HATE this book - actually, not hate it, they won't even be able to read it. I have not read anything by Auster before - but I was attracted by the 880-pages because I do like epic books. I assume those familiar with Auster would probably know what they're getting into.
Bottom line - giving this less than four stars is a disservice, but I can't nearly give it five. But I can see the writer's work and ambition in literally every word of every tightly-packed page. The story did what he wanted.
The theme (not unlike Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life) is reimagined lives and the sense of possibility. Archibald Isaac Ferguson’s choices in his life will lead to four different lives and outcomes. Every twist and turn of life in Auster’s world is significant; every nuance can transform a life and lead to a different storyline. Those turns might hinge on luck, or fortune, or historical events, or our own choices and determinations.
The book will particularly resonate with Boomers (the plot takes us from 1947 through 1971). For those who admire epic and sprawling novels that dig deep into its themes, this is a worthy read.