I finished reading Paul Auster’s latest offering, Winter Journal, today. This is not a Blue Jay Way, I’m afraid, but something far worse. Why, oh why, did he think that this was suitable for publication? And why, oh why did Faber and Faber (Faber and Faber!) agree to publish it? The basic conceit is that Auster, at the age of 64, has entered the winter of his life (why at 64?). The reader is treated to a mostly wistful (and at times self-pitying) memoir written in the second person, implying that, since it was addressed to himself, it was somehow never intended for publication and that we are therefore getting a voyeuristic glimpse of something intimate. There are some flashes of characteristic observation, his portrait of his mother is touching and at times he is searingly, self-lasceratingly honest. But these occasional reminders of what used to be were not enough (for me, at least) to offset an almost unremittingly narcissistic account, fractured into fragments of recollection of varying lengths meant, I suspect, to imitate a musical fugue or dance (or both). The dominant theme throughout is Auster’s body and its decline. Too many of those fragments are lists of one sort or another – some of them very long (I mean pages long) – and too many seem like crudely recycled excerpts from Auster’s diary. Too often the writing is clumsy. Critical reviewers write of Auster’s self-mythologisation and cite a revealing passage where, apparently without any self-consciousness or intended irony, he likens his writing hand to that of Keats’s. Auster also recalls a funny anecdote about James Joyce and his hand. But, tellingly, instead of leaving the reader to enjoy the lewd implications of Joyce’s remark (‘No details given, but what a delicious piece of smut and innuendo, all the more effective because he left everything to the woman’s imagination,’ Auster redundantly tells us), he spells them all out (‘What did he want her to see?’ and then the reader gets yet another list). To be fair, there are some positive reviews out there (here, for example), but most are critical (see here and here). Perhaps the kindest way to look at it is that whatever Auster was trying to do, it didn’t work. But, then, when Auster was at the peaks of his powers nobody needed to be kind.