Counting down all the ways I liked (and sometimes didn’t like) 4321

4321

Told on a Dickensian scale, Auster’s novel is a story of the four possible lives of Archie Ferguson. Though I’d say this was ultimately satisfying, there were elements I had quibbles with. And just as Auster counts down the hours of each version of the protagonist, I’m gonna count down all the varying banana ratings I could give this book…

4 bananas

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While I didn’t initially understand what was going on (which is why I think a synopsis is helpful) I did end up liking how layered it was. I appreciated how it explored the concept of different choices having different effects and how different experiences can lead you down a different path. Each part of the fractured personality made the whole more intriguing. I also appreciated how it flipped around in time. The foreshadowing was done in such an interesting way, cos you had to remember which Ferguson this was going to apply to (and consider if it might refer to more than one Ferguson at once).

3 bananas

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That said, I had mixed feelings about the protagonist. Parts of his character I liked… others I didn’t (and I mean that in the sense that I got fed up with some of the Fergusons, spoiler: I started looking forward to some of them dying).

2 bananas

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It could also be a little self-indulgent at times. I’ve never been a fan of listing other famous books the character’s read- in a *look how smart he is* kind of way- and this rarely felt like an opportunity for intertextuality and more like using greater writers as a crutch. And there was also too much student politics. Which leads me onto…

1 banana

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Yet, my least favourite thing about the book was the skewed view of history. Beyond the basic (and far from ground-breaking) view that the domino theory was a bad military strategy, there never seems to be an attempt to grasp the existential struggle between communism and capitalism. All conflict is largely boiled down to being much the same (I got quite the kick out of the comparison between WWI and Vietnam, because, wait for it… war’s a waste of life- what a revelation). Even more irritating is what I can only describe as the “history in reverse” view of the Six Day War- once again ignoring the existential reality of the conflict in favour of post-colonial interpretation that this was a war of conquest (apart from being bafflingly historically inaccurate, this appears to be Auster injecting his current view of international affairs, breaking the historicity of the novel in a most jarring way). A lot of the mc’s worldview came across as pretty childish and largely based on a “Stick it to the Man!” worldview (often reflected in the mc having very little respect for other people’s property rights). Sure, one could argue this was Ferguson’s slanted view coming across in all walks of his life… but considering they don’t all have the same point of view, it was definitely an opportunity for a more nuanced reflection.

4 bananas

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All that said, the narrative threads came together exceptionally well and the ending was very satisfying indeed. Which is why I gave it:

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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So, have you read this? Do you plan to? What do you think of 4321? Let me know in the comments!

29 thoughts on “Counting down all the ways I liked (and sometimes didn’t like) 4321

  1. Lol! Love the structure of your review. It’s a book I wanted to read and actually started once but had to return it to the library before I really got going with it. Your review made me curious though, so I might return to the book.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! Yeah it took a while for me to get into it (and actually cos I had borrowed it on overdrive, it kept getting returned before I could finish it- but luckily no one else seemed to want to read it when I did) Definitely worth a shot!

      Like

  2. Thanks for presenting such a nuanced review of this work. No, I haven’t read it, but about 6 years ago, I read a different book that constantly referenced other books without stating specifically what was so important about them. Sorry, I just can’t remember what the book was, but I’ll never forget the frustration it left me. Even when the writer talked of a book I had read, I didn’t know which aspect of the story he (I’m pretty sure it was a male writer) considered so important to mention it. Showing off his own erudition without showing why. Made me feel his knowledge was limited to remembering titles. Ugh! Anyway, one of the reasons I don’t like to grade books is because a singular system almost never gets it right. Your assessment of this book is excellent – but who would take this much time?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading! Ah yes- I’ve seen a few books doing that (though I can’t remember their names anymore either). It’s a very frustrating move- and like you said it doesn’t have the effect the author intends! It’s just irritating, because I feel like I’m looking for the reason it’s been mentioned… but it’s basically lazy intertextuality and weird showing off. Hehe thanks! I completely get that- that’s why I generally like to grade books based on how I felt about it- cos I may not be able to pin down how much a book deserves in a rating based on quality- but I know how I felt about it. I know if I was happy/sad/annoyed etc- so that makes it easy 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hope you don’t mind if I revisit one of our mutual pet peeves: the writer who lists all the other wonderful books she’s read in the body of her own work without explaining the reference. So here’s an admiring comment about a writer who does it correctly.
        I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Unsheltered.” Willa, one of the main characters, is describing a local historian and compares him to one of Charles Dickens’ most famous works, “Great Expectations.”
        But more than tossing in a mention of Dickens’ book, Kingsolver goes on to describe in Willa’s own thoughts how apropos the comparison is: “He gave off a whiff of Miss Havisham…–the old lady still in her wedding dress fifty years after getting jilted, wafting around her cobwebby house with the caved-in remains of the nuptial banquet on the table. She fought off an image of this pale man rolling out a mummified wedding cake.”
        I read “Great Expectations” about 55 years ago, so while I have a general remembrance of Miss H., Kingsolver’s comment provides specific details and blends them into her story. No matter how holey my memory or how little familiar another reader may be with Dickens, everyone knows exactly how the historian compares to Miss H. You don’t even have to read “Unsheltered” to grasp the impression this man has made on Willa.
        That’s how to include one’s own reading favorites into your story. And yes, I adore “Unsheltered.” Five bananas, five stars, five more readings, however you want to rate the book as long as it’s at the top.

        Like

  3. I read the first part of Paul Auster’s New York trilogy in college and used to get bogged down with the ambiguity and layers in his book. I re-read the first book from that trilogy and liked it but again didn’t feel an urge to read the next two.
    Love the review, might give this book a try and see if I can finally read a full Auster book!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I had it on my radar since publication, I really like the idea, reminds me of a movie I’ve seen once… but I’m a bit worried about the politics now, I don’t like this type of naive oversimplifications…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do like the idea and there were some really interesting implications… but yeah I wasn’t blown away by the politics. I think it was an especial shame that each version of the same character seemed to retread the same arguments- which was a wasted opportunity for more nuance. And yeah, I can see why people wouldn’t mind that, but it bugged me.

      Liked by 1 person

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