Friday February 03, 2017

Should I Read It? Becky Toyne reviews Paul Auster's 4321

Paul Auster's new book is the epic 866-page "4321".

Paul Auster's new book is the epic 866-page "4321". (Penguin Random House)

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On Tuesday, Paul Auster's highly-anticipated 4321 hit store shelves. It's considered one of the biggest buzz books of 2017 — and when we say 'big,' we mean it.

4321 is Auster's first novel in seven years, and it's also his longest, weighing in at more than 860 pages.

The book is so heavy that Day 6 books columnist Becky Toyne had to cut the book into sections just to carry it around.

       

The plot

4321 is a coming-of-age story centered around a character named Archie Ferguson.

4321 Paul Auster

"4321" is Paul Auster's first book in seven years. (Penguin Random House)

Archie himself is not particularly remarkable as a character, says Toyne. But the tale comes with a twist: over the course of the book, Archie's story is told four separate times, as he lives out his life in four different ways.

According to Toyne, it's the way that the story is told that makes the book intriguing.

"In some ways, the fact that he's not remarkable — or the fact that the differences between his different lives are not so significant — is what is so interesting," she says.

In all of the books, Archie is born in 1947 in New Jersey. But while some elements of Archie's story remain constant, each version of the character has a different childhood, a different career, and a wide range of different life experiences.

"This is kind of about the fact that throughout our life we make millions and millions of tiny decisions and we don't know how our life might have taken a different course if we had done just the tiniest thing [differently]." - Day 6 books columnist Becky Toyne

Some of the variations between their lives are subtle, while others are much more significant.

"This is kind of about the fact that throughout our life we make millions and millions of tiny decisions and we don't know how our life might have taken a different course if we had done just the tiniest thing — if we had crossed the street five minutes earlier, or got one per cent less on a test that meant we went to a different school," Toyne says.

"It's actually the fact that the life is quite ordinary, but four quite different versions of it."

     

But should I read it?

It does take some mental work to keep all the different Archies straight. The book is divided into sections that bounce back and forth between the various versions of Archie's life.

"What is so great about this book is the intellectual work that you do by going back and forth between the different storylines." - Day 6 books columnist Becky Toyne

But for Toyne, that's what makes the book so compelling.

"What is so great about this book is the intellectual work that you do by going back and forth between the different storylines," she says.

Toyne says 4321 is worth the commitment — all 860 pages.

"I think it is well worth the 40-plus hours of your time it will take you to get through this," she says.

       

Day 6 has two copies of Paul Auster's 4321 to give away. To enter our random draw, send an e-mail to day6@cbc.ca with '4321' in the subject line. Be sure to include your mailing address. We'll pick two winners at random before next week's show.