Pooch protagonist of novel
Sunday, July 18,
by Paul Auster. Henry Holt. 181 pages. $22.
"The characters in my novels are
my own unrealized possibilities."
Milan Kundera's sentence may or may
not have entered the mind of Paul Auster, but
autobiographical details wink at the reader from each of his
works. "City of Glass" (1985) featured a writer named Paul
Auster; the film "Smoke" (1996) includes a writer named Paul
Benjamin, also the pseudonym Paul Auster used for the
mystery novel "Squeeze Play" (1982).
So, in "Timbuktu," would the
unrealized possibility be Willy G. Christmas, the dying
writer who shares Auster's birth year? Or is it Mr. Bones,
Willy's peripatetic pooch and the novel's central
Mr. Bones bears witness to the
lives of persons who own him. He is an outsider sometimes
allowed in, but more often looking on from a near distance,
straining to comprehend and survive in the world of
The question of who is the more
Auster-like character might be interesting, but the answer
does not concern us. As for many an Auster protagonist, Mr.
Bones' journey matters more than his destination, which may
or may not be the "Timbuktu" of the novel's title.
Willy's definition of "Timbuktu" is
suggestive and open-ended, encouraging the reader to imagine
the possibilities, as Auster often does. To quote Willy,
"Where the map of this world ends, that's where the map of
"Timbuktu" is not Auster's greatest
work, nor does it intend to be. Like Virginia Woolf's
"Flush" (1933), another biography of a dog, "Timbuktu" is a
minor work by a major writer. It makes for diverting
summertime reading and may turn a few Auster fans into dog
lovers or vice versa. But, should his new film "Lulu on the
Bridge" make it to Charleston, put down this book and head
for the theater.
If the movie is half as good as its
screenplay, "Lulu" will count among Auster's best.
Nel is a visiting instructor of English at the College