4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
This is the story of Archibald Ferguson a young Jewish boy growing up in New York in the late 1940’s. The story follows Archie from that one beginning split into four simultaneous and independent paths. Same boy…four separate parallel lives…
To start with im going to say this book was far too long!! I don’t have a problem with big books in general, in fact I am very drawn to longer books as I feel it usually gives you more space and time with the characters, but only when they need to be long…that is the key. This book felt way longer than it needed to be, 800-1000+ pages (depending on your edition) was completely unnecessary. At the end I felt exhausted and like I had just completed some sort of marathon. This book is most certainly not for the faint of heart. If you managed to make it to the end of this behemoth let me know…I feel like we should start a club!
I began this book completely in love with it, I was so excited and thinking it was going to be one of my top picks of the list, then around the half way mark the love affair started to break down. I found the voice of young Archie compelling and though at times perhaps too old for his young age I really enjoyed watching the different themes present in the varying storylines. It attempted to portray what can happen when put our focus in life on different things and how that changes our course. In some of the storylines Archie’s parents are more focused on wealth than others, and where their attention is focus has a profound effect on Archie and the path his life takes. The author clearly had some very strong feelings about where the focus on wealth will takes you! There are themes of what it means to belong, and what it means to be an American, which really reminded me of my recent read of Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. Early on some of Archie’s classmates are questioning some of his traditions and Archie is puzzled by the interaction “It had never occurred to him that his way of being an American was any less authentic than the way Dougie and the other boys were American”. There is discussion about cheating death and that you are perhaps destined to die at a certain time and that can not be escaped.
I really felt connected at the beginning as the author wrote some very beautiful passages that really shared my passion for a number of things such as music, reading , candid photography. Then at the halfway mark things started to fall apart for me. There started to be extremely long rants on different tangents from politics to the process of writing. This really distanced me from the characters and they started to lose their presence to me. There also started to be some issues with the themes as well, it began to feel a bit like we were playing diversity Bingo…under the B..disability…under the I…interracial dating. It may just be me that was bothered by the fact that each diverse topic seemed to be encapsulated within one story line. There wasn’t really much crossover between stories which led to a feeling of falseness, the interactions began to feel forced. One example was the story with LGBTQ characters, the only LGBTQ characters that existed was within one story line, so each interaction that occurred seemed overly convenient and not very genuine (hard to discuss without spoilers). This had to have been intentional by the author and I guess it just didn’t work for me. I enjoyed the beginning so much because I really felt like the characters were real people, then when the stories started to be segmented and you could almost give them lables I became more conscious that I was reading about characters, not people. The last 300 pages were a real struggle to finish, but I just wanted to know how it ended!
So, Manbooker, I really can’t see this making it on to the short list, this nomination just feels like an indulgent nod to a well known author. I would give this a pass if you are thinking about reading some of the nominations this year. Won’t be my pick for the short list!
Manbooker 2017 3/13