Oracle Night

ISBN: 0805073205
ISBN 13: 9780805073201
By: Paul Auster

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About this book

Several months into his recovery from a near-fatal illness, thirty-four-year-old novelist Sidney Orr enters a stationery shop in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn and buys a blue notebook. It is September 18, 1982, and for the next nine days Orr will live under the spell of this blank book, trapped inside a world of eerie premonitions and puzzling events that threaten to destroy his marriage and undermine his faith in reality.Why does his wife suddenly break down in tears in the backseat of a taxi just hours after Sidney begins writing in the notebook? Why does M. R. Chang, the owner of the stationery shop, precipitously close his business the next day? What are the connections between a 1938 Warsaw telephone directory and a lost novel in which the hero can predict the future? At what point does animosity explode into violence? To what degree is forgiveness the ultimate expression of love?Paul Auster’s mesmerizing eleventh novel reads like an old-fashioned ghost story. But there are no ghosts in this book—only flesh-and-blood human beings, wandering through the haunted realms of everyday life. At once a meditation on the nature of time and a journey through the labyrinth of one man’s imagination, Oracle Night is a narrative tour de force that confirms Auster’s reputation as one of the boldest, most original writers at work in America today.

Reader's Thoughts


Auster's favourite theme is randomness, chance. And we see it again in this novel, which is a story within a story within a story, told in Auster's favourite narrative style. Given that there is so much ground to cover in this short book, I'm not sure there is any other way but to "tell" this story. However, only the main story line heads towards any type of conclusion in this book, while the others stall midway, again, demonstrating randomness, perhaps?I like this book because it deals with the life of a writer, Sydney Orr, who has suffered a long illness and is just picking up his interrupted life. It is also a good study on plotting, for Auster weaves plot within plot in his embedded stories - quite deftly, it seems. Sometimes randomness can be a cop-out, when new plot points are introduced just to hype things up or slow things down. The late arrival of Jacob Trause, the truant son of Syney's mentor John Trause, and his suddden but drastic impact on the course of the narrative, pushes the concept of "chance" a bit too far. Auster also experiments with putting back-story and other non-essential detail into lengthy footnotes that overlap several pages and that can be read ( or not) to enhance the depth of the main storyline - this device worked for me..The lesson of randomness however, is quite powerful, because after the random event, all previous efforts by those affected seem trivial and unecessary.Which begs the question of whether one should strive in life or just go with the flow?


I was given this book, and assured that I would like it. And I did! This is the first time I have read an Auster novel and I found it to be a lovely piece of work, I started it and stopped for a moment to breathe, since I have no other books to read, I tried to savour it but alas! I couldn't I just had to read it in one sitting. Such is the the curse of the fast reader. I enjoyed it from start to finish and liked visiting a Brooklyn neighborhood I spent a lot of time in(my sister lived in in Carrol Gardens for was a charming little novel. Can't wait to check out more of his work.

Mina Saher

رواية جميلة جداً، محكمة في كل تفاصيلها.

melanie berlin

this book was totally SPELLBINDING and CAPTIVATING! a real PAGE-TURNER..until the last third of the book, when it totally fell apart and became pointless and lame. thanks a lot, auster. ...dick.


Probably not that many Auster readers start 2004's Oracle Night the second after finishing 1987's In the Country of Last Things, so don't notice that Boris Stepanovich, a significant secondary character in the latter, has a brief role as a cab driver in the former.More noteworthy, and scary, is that Jacob, the late-adolescent gone wrong (not just a little wrong, either) mirrors the character of Mark in Auster's wife Siri Hustvedt's What I Loved - I hope this didn't really happen to them.Suggestions of autobiography are hard to dismiss in any novel where the central character is a writer. This one is meta-meta-meta, where the story within the story is itself about an unpublished novel; parallels emerge in all three levels of the story and half the significant information is explained in footnotes that fill up more of the page than the ostensible main narrative - post-modern but still gripping and finally arriving at an almost melodramatic climax that is all the more shocking in the wake of the many unfinished story lines that precede it.


I really enjoyed this, a Morning News recommendation a couple years ago. But take that with a grain of salt; it was the first Paul Auster book I'd read at the time, so I wasn't jaded by his little tricks yet. Now I know he does basically the same thing in every story.


We create the future day by day. The words I’m typing right now only existed in the present (see, the verb’s already in the past tense) for a fraction of a second. Their real existence is in an unknowable future. To say that what I write affects the future sounds arrogant but it’s true. You who’re reading this exist in my future. I’m affecting you right now. I don’t imagine I’m going to have a big effect on you—I’ll either persuade you to read this book, put you off it or any one of a hundred shades inbetween—but you will be (are being) affected. And all this is is a silly comment on a website. Imagine if I were writing a novel the damage I could do. Scary.So what’s this got to do with Paul Auster? Everything. In Oracle Night the writer John Trause (anagram of Auster) tells his friend and the book’s narrator:Thoughts are real. Words are real. Everything human is real and sometimes we know things before they happen, even if we aren’t aware of it. We live in the present but the future is inside us at every moment. Maybe that’s what writing is all about, Sid. Not recording events from the past but making things happen in the future. To provide some ‘evidence’ of same Trause tells Sid about a French writer who “published a book-length narrative poem that revolved around the drowning of a young child. Two months after the book was released, the writer and his family went on a vacation to the Normandy coast and on the last day of their trip his five-year-old daughter waded out into the choppy waters of the English Channel and drowned.”Coincidence surely? Perhaps. Of course. But the French writer never writes another word afterwards. The power of words has always been known. That’s where spells and curses come from. In olden times, ordinary people would be very careful what they said because they believed their words had power. You didn't have to be a priest, oracle or wizard to cast spells with words; anyone could potentially make something happen just by saying so.Oracle Night is a dense novel covering a couple of weeks in the life of New York author Sidney Orr. That it’s possible to see some of Auster in him is not surprising but there’s also some of Auster in Trause. Of course as the whole book was written by Auster there has to be a lot of him in everyone. That’s how it is for us writers. And this is very much a book about writers and the writing process. The idea of a cursed thing goes back year and years. The first instance I can think of it is in the 1932 film The Mummy where the reading aloud from the Scroll of Thoth is what causes the mummy to rise and its destruction is what destroys him in the end. Everything starts to unfurl for Sid when he finds himself in front of a stationers he’s never seen before. It’s there that he buys the blue notepad, the Portuguese one. When he goes back a few days later to buy some Scotch tape the shop has suddenly closed its doors. Very Twilight Zone.The blue notebook at first inspires him and he begins a new work about a writer. He borrows Trause’s apartment and uses it in the book. Later, when visiting his friend, he’s a little surprised to find Trause also uses these blue notepads and has been doing for years:For reasons that still baffle me, I became enormously excited by this discovery. What difference did it make what kind of notebook John used? He had lived in Portugal for a couple of years, and no doubt they were a common item over there, available in any run-of-the-mill stationery store. Why shouldn’t he be writing in a blue hardbound notebook that had been manufactured in Portugal? No reason, no reason at all – and yet, given the deliciously pleasant sensations I’d felt that morning when I’d bought my own blue notebook, and given that I’d spent several productive hours writing in it earlier that day (my first literary efforts in close to a year), and given that I’d been thinking about those efforts all through the evening at John’s, it hit me as a startling conjunction, a little piece of black magic. (bold mine) He mentions this to Trause who responds: ‘I used to buy those notebooks on my trips down to Lisbon. They’re very good, very solid. Once you start using them, you don’t feel like writing in anything else.’‘I had that same feeling today. I hope it doesn’t mean I’m about to become addicted.’‘Addiction might be too strong a word, but there’s no question that they’re extremely seductive. Be careful, Sid. I’ve been writing in them for years, and I know what I’m talking about.’‘You make it sound as if they’re dangerous.’‘It depends on what you write. Those notebooks are very friendly, but they can also be cruel, and you have to watch out that you don’t get lost in them.’ In the meantime we get to see what Sid’s writing—a story about a man who walks out of his life one day—and then we start to see similar things happening in his life as are happening in his character’s. It all becomes quite convoluted but arching over everything is what it means to be a writer. The story in the blue book stalls on him (which I found very frustrating because I was invested in it) but once I realised he’d written himself into a corner and Sid’s real life started to get more and more complicated I got my second wind as it were. In the past people talked about writers having their heads in the clouds. In science fiction parlance they’d probably say they’re out of phase with the rest of us. When Sid looks in the window of Chang’s stationers he sees “towers of ballpoints, pencils and rulers arranged to suggest the New York skyline”. It’s a simple and effective visual image: we don’t look at the world and see it crumble into letters (the visual I have in my head right now is from The Matrix) but we might as well: reality, memory and imagination all tend to bleed together after a bit especially when we’re in the middle of a big project and sometimes it feels like effects arrive before their associated causes. Words, in a big or a small way, do affect the future, yes, but they definitely provide a window on the past. One of most striking pieces of writing Sid does, once he realises his novel has stalled, is to turn to the back of the blue notebook and fill in the blanks in his own life. Part fact, part fiction and no one will ever know what the exact ratio is but it was fascinating to see him going over things we’ve learned earlier in the book and see them as evidence of other possibilities. Finally the only thing he can think to do is destroy the blue book. But has he left it too late? Will momentum carry events to their inevitable conclusion?If a book should be judged by whether or not it can be (or ought to be) read a second time then this is definitely a book that deserves (demands?) a second read. I got completely caught up in it. I’ve hear the plot described as “overintricate” but I don’t think it is. Even when I was in the novel (by Sylvia Maxwell) within the novel (by Sid Orr) within the novel (by Paul Auster) I knew where I was. Maybe not Auster’s best work—that’s what some say (maybe you need to be a writer to fully appreciate it)—but if it’s not I look forward to getting to that best work.

MacDara Conroy

Paul Auster is the kind of writer who makes you wish you were one too. He might be too self-referential or self-indulgent for some, and this particular story isn't without it's shortcomings - too many loose endings, things left unexplained - but he has this gift for conjuring a lucid dreamworld that could easily intersect with your life, or mine. That alone makes it worth a read for the uninitiated.

Babak Fakhamzadeh

A reasonably charming little novel by this New York author who's always been heavy on synchronicity, this volume not being an exception. On the downside, the book, at under 200 pages, takes a very long time to get going and then, at the end of it, I was still wondering whether it was all worth it. Auster, though, is able to lucidly tell what could have been a quagmire of a story: The book is about a writer recovering from a major physical breakdown, who starts to write a story about a man who breaks with his life after reading the manuscript of a book about a man who can foresee the future. On top of this, other stories and manuscripts are dipped in and out of. One of the main characters of the book, his last name, is an anagram of Auster, while the leading character's qualities are a closer parallel of Auster himself. The book was released in 2004 but is set in the early 80s, the leading character recounting what happened some 20 years before his narration. The 80s being the focus for no apparent reason outside perhaps the story requiring a more challenging communication infrastructure.

Ada Bonnefoi

The novel plays on multiple nested levels: On top, Sidney Orr, a writer, telling two weeks of his life in 1982. He has had an accident and is currently on the road to recovery. After buying a notebook he takes up his literary activities again. He writes his story almost in a trance. It is about Nick Bowen, an editor who wants to start his life anew. A motif that Sid has stolen from the "Maltese Falcon". Nick, in the story, proofreads a book titled "Oracle Night". A book of the long-dead author Sylvia Maxwell, just only now resurfaced. Sid sends Nick in an almost hopeless situation and his own life also seems to become more and more complicated. His wife Grace begins to behave strangely, and their mutual friend Trause (an anagram of Auster) is ill at home ...Auster manages a tight and gripping novel, in which he deals with the vagaries of life. He uses very long footnotes, dealing mostly with the past of his characters. Many storylines will not be completed, but this fits well with the novel. Linguistically very clear with an appealing language, the book contains many descriptive paragraphs. It is just a tiny bit too dramatic. But Auster writes skillyfully in the first person, inserting flashbacks and perspective and makes it an exciting story. It is sometimes deliberately confusing and chaotic, then again full of devotion and sincerity. A powerful book.

Jen Selinsky

It is 1982, and Sidney Orr has just started to recover from an illness that nearly took his life. After one of his walks around the neighborhood, he decides to stop into a store called the “Paper Palace” to pick up a blank notebook. Once Sidney begins to write, he finds that he has been consumed in his work, as all these strange events are occurring around him. His marriage is on the brink of failure, and he delves into the worlds of those who are closest to him. Will Sidney come out from under the notebook’s spell? Will his marriage be saved, and will he ever be able to tie up the loose ends of the reality that no longer seems to exist?


رواية داخل روايةعندما تقرأ لأول مرة لبول أوستر لا يسعك بعد ذلك إلا البحث عن مجمل أعماله..متعة فائقة أن أتقرأ لكاتب يحترم عقليتك و يضع ذكاءك موضع المسائلة و الإختبار كأنه داخل إلى متاهة ذهنية و يريدك أن تعمل على حل عقدها و التكهن بالخطوة القادمة التى لن تقدر على التنبؤ بها أو حتى التفكير فيها..دائما توقعات صادمة تنهش فى لحم الحقيقة لتعرى ما هو مختفٍ تحتهاالرواية قائمة على تداعى السرد و تشابك الأزمنة و التقل فيما بينها من الماضى للحاضر و المستقبل و بالعكس ، و تداخل حياة الراوى- الذى يعمل بالأساس كاتب قصة- مع الشخصية التى يقوم بتخيلها و التى طيلة قراءتك للرواية تتساءل أيهما الحقيقى الرواى/ الكاتب/الشخصية المتخيلة..بينهما دائما نقاط إلتقاء فى الحياة و فى التفكير و فى المفردات المادية و المعنوية التى تشكل عالميهماتحكى الرواية عن كاتب يدعى"سدنى أولا" و الذى أصابه حادث فكان على شفا الموت ..و قام من موته ليكتب قصة فى دفتر أزرق صنع برتغالى كان له الأثر الفعال فى تغيير منحى القصة من آن لآخر...يكتب عن شخصية كانت سابقاً بطلة فى رواية"الصقر المالطى" لكاتب آخر إسمه داشيل هامت..مع تحوير فى الصفات الجسمانية و كذلك الحياة الإجتماعية غير أن الذى يربط بينهما هو حادث سقوط جسم هائل من أعلى بناية يمر من تحتها فكاد أن يسقط عليه لولا تفاديه و إصابته بجروح طفيفة.كان لهذا الحادث أثره عليه بعد ذلك فى تساؤلاته عن الموت العشوائى و الغير منظم و تتابع أسئلة الكثيرة عن معنى الحياة و الوجودضمن الرواية يحاول أيضاً الكاتي"بول أوستر" أن يعطينا فكرة عن التكنيكات المتبعة فى كتابة قصة..الخيط الأول، أول كلمة، تداعى الأفكار و التحكم الواعى بها..إعادة التنسيق و البناء المادى و المعنوى للشخصيةهى رواية محيرة و مثيرة و تشد الأنفاس نظرا لكتابتها بطريقة سرد بوليسية تعطيك إنطباعا أنك تعيش فى عالم فنتازى لا واقعى و لا منطقى و غير مارابط و لا يمت لحياتنا الواقعية فى شىء ..لكنك تقع فى مغالطة كبيرة إن تيقنت من هذا


I'm an unabashed paul auster junkie, and I keep working my way through his full catalog, regardless of my opinions of whichever Auster I'm working on at the moment. Lately (i.e. the last few I've read) I've been reading Auster novels and thinking "Ok, this is NOT the one to start a new reader on." And Oracle Night is one of those. I don't think it would be necessarily the WRONG Auster to start on, but I'd recommend starting with one of his others first, unless this is the only one you can find. It's not as riddled with in-jokes as the novella "Travels In The Scriptorium" (see prev. review) and it's actually an enjoyable read in its own right. I think there's only one point at which it ties in to the others in the Auster-verse, mostly it's a self-contained book about a man struggling to recover after a nearly-fatal illness, about his marriage (which may or may not be falling apart) and about the power of the written word. All of which makes for an interesting and entertaining storyline, and overall a good book. I'd still tell someone curious about Auster's work to start with a book like "The Music of Chance" or "Mr. Vertigo". I started delving into his work with "City of Glass", years ago, which is part of his "New York Trilogy", but those prev. two are the ones I'd recommend as "Auster training wheels." Like the back of the book blurb that shows up on most of his works, Paul Auster writes his own kind of genre. There aren't usually any really fantastic elements (well, there are, but not in the sense of something fantasy or sci-fi, simply ordinary people doing extraordinary things or getting caught up in extraordinary situations) but there are traces of the recursive narrative in the way Oracle Night does curl back on itself in a couple points (which if you haven't read the rest of his work you'll miss). A good book, a solid read that took me maybe a couple days to zip through, and I'll definitely go pick up another Auster next time I go to the bookstore, but for the uninitiated, this is not necessarily the best one to start with... unless your local bookstore only has this one, get one of the others I mentioned. Also, since the main character is a writer, if you like books about the creative process and what Norman Mailer called "the spooky art" of sitting down to create stories, there's a good dose of it here, worth the read, along with a crazy Chinese paper goods vendor, a sudden twist at the end, and a couple unexpected deaths. I don't want to give too much away, but it's definitely worth reading.


روند قصه آرام پيش مى‌رود و خواننده هم از اطلاعات و رويدادها لذت مى‌برد. خواننده هم‌پاى راوى در قصه پيش مى‌رود و در اواخر قصه كه حوادث را كنار هم مى‌چيند همزمان با راوى حسى بين شگفتى كشف يك راز و البته حسى غمگين دچار مى‌شود. پايان قصه هم منطقى و تقريبا قابل پيشى‌بينى است. چيزى كه در خواندن كتاب‌هاى استر مهم است اين است كه خواننده از روند داستان و معماهاى موجود و افكار راوى لذت مى‌برد. مثلا روندى كه راوى را به اين جملات مى‌رساند كهاندیشه‌ها واقعیت دارند. واژه‌ها واقعی‌اند. هرچه انسانی باشد واقعی است و گاه ما پیش از وقوع حادثه‌ها از آن باخبر مى‌شويم ولو اینکه از پیش‌بينى خود آگاه نباشیم. ما در زمان حال به سر می‌بريم. ولی آینده را هر لحظه در درون خود داریم. شاید نوشتن به همین مربوط باشد، سیدنی؛ نه گزارش رویدادهای گذشته، بلکه ایجاد رویدادهای آینده.


Marx once said "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." Sidney Orr (narrator) and the author's alter ego John Trause, through the progression of this recursive and elliptical story gradually come to learn that their words have consequences. That they may unleash a blizzard of coincidences or an avalanche of catastrophe. Words create tragedy, both through hopes and fears. Life will not conform to the dictates of drama or fiction. When Bowen is locked in the basement vault of the Bureau of Historical Preservation, we as readers are conditioned to expect a resolution will be forthcoming. Yet, life gets the last laugh. There are no neat resolutions in Oracle Night, yet everything is connected. Although it may be convenient to place the blame for our misfortunes on the curious effect of a particular blue Portuguese notebook, procured by an inscutable Chinese stationer, we must ultimately bear full and complete responsibility for the constitution of our Selves through the narratives we manifest. An example of the contingency of life and the care that we must exhibit before we undertake to pen our own stories, Auster's Oracle Nights will leave you wondering. If you like this you may also enjoy Auster's Man in the Dark.

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