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