Baumgartner by Paul Auster

The opening chapter of this book is a beautifully modulated introduction to the life of philosophy professor and 71-year-old widower Sy Baumgartner. Sy roams the rooms of his brownstone, burning his hand on a saucepan that he boiled dry, wondering why he has walked into this room, and then remembering that he was supposed to call his sister, etc.

His beloved wife has died in an accident, and he has not yet recovered, nor has he gone back to any sort of fulfilling life. He has an infatuation of sorts with his UPS delivery driver, and is eager to befriend the meter reader. The majority of this book dwells on his reminiscences of meeting, bedding, wedding, and mourning his beloved Anna. The middle section of the book follows his affair with a successful widow. He is also going through and compiling all of the poems that, during her life, his wife had no interest in publishing, so that he can put together a posthumous collection.

Paul Auster writes with elegiac grace, but I struggled to feel a strong connection to the characters. I am unsure if it is my fault or the author’s. In his long career, Auster has written in almost every genre. Postmodern crime in The New York Trilogy, deeply moving memoir in Moon Palace, angry polemic in Ghost Nation, and so on. In this novel, he attempts to write a poignant treatise on ageing, loneliness and loss. In this task he mostly succeeds, but I found myself wanting more than this short novel provided.

Cover image for Baumgartner


Paul Auster

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