There is something in the way in which Paul Auster writes that stays with me for days afterwards. It lingers in thought, a nagging urge to better understand the prose; that no matter how deeply you feel about the story, there’s another layer unfound, asking to be revealed.
And so it has been with Moon Palace, an older Auster novel (from 1989) which only now have I finally managed to consume.
Set as the sixties were giving way to the seventies, in the shadow of men landing on the moon and the sense of a rapidly changing world, the novel is a first person narrative told through the words and reflections of the young Marco Stanley Fogg, a delightful composite of a name. On the one hand old-school, faintly comic Dickensian while at the same time offering whispers of exploration and adventures to come.
And it is indeed, a novel of melancholic exploration, both physical and psychological. A story which takes us from the urban sprawl of a modern Manhattan to the visions of older America, the vastness of the West and the myths that lie at the heart of the country, the continent and the people, indigenous or otherwise, who have called it their home. An existential journey through the nation’s expansive evolution, it’s no coincidence that Fogg’s story ultimately heads west.
Knitted together by a series of fairly unlikely coincidences the story uses a fiendishly clever picaresque style, allowing us to learn tales of the main protagonists over the course of three generations. And, in so doing we find ourselves in the midst of a story that seems to repeat on itself, the notion that history is repetitive. Fogg’s early descent into homelessness and despair, living off trash can scraps and taking to shelter in a cave in the heart of Central Park is later mirrored by the tale of his benefactor Effing, who relays to Fogg his own cave-dwelling travails as a young artist lost in the Utah desert, many years before.
Auster clearly has a lot to say across a gamut of themes within the novel; each episode a contemplation on history and family, but also on the nature of art and the act and indeed importance of story-telling within our culture. There is Fogg’s grief-induced quest to read every book inherited from his uncle as he slowly extracts himself from society; the meta-fiction re-telling of Sol Barber’s poorly written fantasy western and the book length, pre-death obituary of Effing. With each story comes a new revelation, ever more bizarre but no less compelling, bringing the protagonists’ lives closer together.
And then there is Kitty Wu. The contrast to the old world order of Effing’s art and Barber’s academia. The love of Fogg’s life (within these pages, at least) Wu is at once a representation of heroism and tragedy. Of Chinese origin, she shares a backstory similar to Fogg’s. Lost and trying to find her way in a new landscape she frequently displays the strength that Fogg seems to lack; becoming his salvation and, ultimately a victim of his weakness and a representation of historic mistakes made by men in the name of forging new frontiers.
Ultimately, Moon Palace is a reflection of human existence and the way in which we stubbornly refuse to learn from our mistakes. As Douglas Adams once said: “We live and learn. At least, we live.” So this is the fundamental truth at which Auster appears to be suggesting, symbolised throughout by reference to the moon. On one level we have a book about exploration in the shadow of the moon landings while at the same time the symbol of a history of blunders, the cyclical nature of the moon mirroring that of our protagonist’s lives.
I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front of late. In fact, taking a quick glance at the calendar I notice that more than a month has passed since I put finger to keyboard for the purposes of this little portion of the webosphere.
Not that I’ve been idle in this period you understand – not a bit of it. For starters I found myself in the entirely pleasant situation of being hired for a content writing project from the good people of UKChina Investments in London. This is a company set up to encourage investment into the UK (mainly London) from financially successful individuals and companies in China. I’ll be honest, at face value this is not a field I have enormous experience in, having never been to China nor, for that matter, ever looked to invest in the London property or financial markets.
This, though, is the challenge, the pleasure and, ultimately, the rewards of being a writer – in my humble opinion. To research and learn about something new; be it a business, subject, culture, person or environment and to then back your own ability to be able to apply your skills as a writer to create something legible, coherent and readable for the desired audience.
Now, of course, working with UKChina Investments wasn’t a complete leap into the dark for me. I’ve worked with businesses and groups of many a varied background and understand how companies tend to run, what they tend to be looking for. Nevertheless, this was still a new type of project, learning about areas of service that I’ve never personally worked in, and indeed, dealing and liaising with people I’ve never met before, not to mention the fact that this would be writing for an audience (namely wealthy Chinese business people) that, to my knowledge, I’ve never had to specifically tailor towards in the past.
This, I believe, is what the content and copywriter does – this is the value that he or she brings to a business or project. A writer who’s worth their salt will be able to learn about the needs of a the client, the nuances and particularities of each specific job, to research the subject area – after which they can apply their craft to the task, providing exactly the right voice, delivering the message to the required audience in the manner that the client wishes.
Which is why, if you’ll forgive the self-congratulatory tone, at the end of the project, you receive an email saying
“You’ve done a brilliant job! Thank you. We would definitely recommend you to friends and business colleagues. Many thanks again for your work and help”
it really does make it all the more worthwhile and doesn’t half encourage you to keep tapping away on that keyboard.
EDIT – Uk China Investments is now live – click here to take a look.
Hill looked out the window, saw the day leaking away. Not much colour around today; dark blues and grey, some muddy brown. Lots of water though. Rain that swept in on a breeze, trying its best to become a gust, maybe a gale. Hill wasn’t a fan of this kind of weather; the dark and the dreary that sucked ambition and impelled you to remain indoors, tempting you to the larder or the Quality Street tin.
Hill didn’t have a larder. He didn’t know anyone who did.
Dark and dreary – there’d been a lot of that around lately. He preferred other weather, more seasonal weather; preferred freezing cold days that were bright; days when the chill tingled fingers, bit at noses, where frost would cover and sparkle on windscreens and lawns. Maybe snow. Yes, Hill preferred snow.
A year ago there was snow. He remembered it well. Remembered it fondly. A heavy fall that some insisted was a blizzard the week before Christmas, falling with a beautiful silence, muting the city with its soft, clean blanket. It made the baubles on the tree twinkle with greater vim, made the carols more prescient, the days more seasonal. A walk on Christmas Eve around a frozen lake, hot chocolate and warm-centred mince pies as Bing Crosby finally got his dream fulfilled this side of the Severn.
No such seasonality this year. More akin to Christmas’ past. Didn’t stop the happy build up, the sound of excited children, wishing the week away. The old songs, the familiar films: Polar Express and The Snowman. Waking early, really early and finding out that HE’D BEEN.
But then it was over and the dark and the dreary fell upon the world. That strange, nowhere time between Christmas and New Year. A reluctant need to work, to allow normality back in under the door despite brave efforts to keep it away for a few days longer. He liked Christmas, always had. He loved this one – the smile on the boy’s faces, the chance to re-acquaint with a wife he’d seen too little of, of late. But those days after Boxing Day, before the ringing bell of another year – what of them?
He wrote some things on a page, then typed more on a screen, mind drifting as ever was the case. Another year over, as John Lennon sang. A new one just begun (almost). Reflecting as he watched the tree bend against the ever darkening sky. Another year over, another year older. A year filled with things, with events, with news that rarely seemed good. Riots and Protests, occupations and overhauls. Despotic death. He wrote some more things and knew that it made no sense so he stopped. Is there always this much news in the course of a year? Or has he just noticed it more this time? So much news, so much change. His new phone speaks to him, answers questions posed his way. Google have patented a car that drives itself. There were scientists this year who suggested that there were things that travelled faster than the speed of light. Hill was fascinated and puzzled by all of this. He watched the riots earlier in the year and didn’t know what to think, or who to blame. So he made crass jokes about it instead and watched Have I Got News For You.
Talking phones, self driving cars. He thought of AI, of the Terminator. Was this how it all began? Were the Mayans onto something? That would put a dent in the Olympic celebrations if they were. He thought of Back to the Future Part 2. Marty McFly went into the future. 2015. That was in three years time. Hill smiled, rain splashed against the window as though thrown from a cup. Jaws 19 was in the cinema in the film – that wasn’t going to happen. Hover Boards though? Maybe, who knows? If something can go faster than the speed of light can we travel in time? Hill didn’t know the answer to this. Hill didn’t even know how a mobile phone worked. Although he could operate Sky+. If it was possible was 88mph really the optimal speed? It was dark outside now. His kids were at home, playing on their new Xbox from Father Christmas.
When he was a child Father Christmas brought an Atari. Hill loved it, thought it was the most amazing thing he’d ever seen. To play games on your television: Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Frogger. He watched his boys play FIFA 12 on Christmas morning. It was like watching a real football match. The lack of swearing and feigning injury was the giveaway.
Tomorrow it would be New Year’s Eve. The last day of the year. A New Year, A New Hope, as George Lucas might say. Star Wars still had a place in Hill’s heart.
Hill looked out the window, saw the day leaking away.
It was time to go home.