The Music of Chance

ISBN: 0140154078
ISBN 13: 9780140154078
By: Paul Auster

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About this book

Finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, The Music of Chance follows Jim Nashe who, after squandering an unexpected inheritance, picks up a young gambler named Jack Pozzi hoping to con two millionaires. But when their plans backfire, Jim and Jack are indentured by their elusive marks and are forced to build a meaningless wall with bricks gathered from ruins of an Irish castle. Time passes, their debts mount, and anger builds as the two struggle to dig themselves out of their Kafkaesque serfdom.New York Times-bestselling author Paul Auster (The New York Trilogy) brings us back into his strange, shape-shifting world of fiendish bargains and punitive whims, where chance is a powerful yet unpredictable force.

Reader's Thoughts


In the early zeros, when I worked at the village IGA, Georges, one of the older baggers, came back from lunch with a stricken look on his face. He held up a receipt he found crumpled up by the bank machine across the street. "Hey. Check!" he said, holding it too close to my face. "Balance $200,000 tabarnak! My life is fucking garbage and always will be fucking garbage." An unhappy bagger can make for a long afternoon, so I examined the paper, clapped a chapped hand on his shoulder and said, "Only an idiot would leave $200,000 in a savings account." This seemed to cheer him up a bit, and it gave us a good discussion topic for the rest of the day. When Nashe, in Paul Auster's 'The Music of Chance' plops his $200,000 inheritance into a bank account, I know I'm in for a nervous read about a man will run out of money somewhere awful. Will it be fast? Will it be painful? Even when he's just driving the roads to nowhere in the beginning of the book, there's a lot of suspense over that money in the bank, and later, the glove box; sort of a fiscal musical chairs where I know from the start, Nashe is going to be 'out' in a big way. This is my first Paul Auster book, and I thought it was damn clever the way he wove suspense out of something sitting somewhere and running out. Once the money is gone, he continues to build a good story from other things running out on Nashe; strength, energy, clarity of mind, liberty, companionship, until the end where he finds out what he is made of. And the verdict isn't bad. He's lost everything, but Nashe is made of adequate stuff. He also appreciates how: "All of a sudden, the stones were turning into a wall, and in spite of the pain it had cost him, he could not help admiring it. Whenever he stopped and looked at it now, he felt awed by what he had done." I've never understood gambling, but the stones turning into a wall is a familiar state of mind, and I like how Auster let it sneak up on me, his lovely voice pulling me along. Does he, perhaps, feel this every time he writes a book? And how about this: "As Nashe and Pozzi discovered, it was one thing to lift a sixty-pound stone, but once that stone had been lifted, it was quite another thing to lift a second sixty-pound stone, and still another thing to take on the third stone after lifting the second. No matter how strong they felt while lifting the first, much of that strength would be gone by the time they came to the second... Every time they worked on the wall, Nashe and Pozzi came up against the same bewitching conundrum: all the stones were identical, and yet each stone was heavier than the one before it." This is the best book I have ever read about art, that's not about art. For what are great works of art, especially novels, made of? Heavy-lifting and geologic patience.


James Nashe s'est fait plaquer, avec sa jeune fille, par sa femme Thérèse. Étant pompier, il confie la gamine à sa soeur, car il peut être appelé à tout moment par la caserne. Sa vie va prendre une autre tournure le jour où il reçoit un courrier le prévenant de la mort de son père, qu'il n'avait jamais connu, et dont il hérite d'une petite fortune. Il va alors quitter son boulot, s'acheter une voiture, et partir... Il va rouler pendant des kilomètres et des kilomètres, ne se lassant jamais du paysage défilant derrière la vitre, vivant parfois dans des petits motels, parfois dans de beaux hotels... mais un jour, il va faire la connaissance de Jack Pozzi, dit Jackpot. Le jeune garçon errait sur la route, salement amoché. Nashe va alors l'embarquer et s'occuper de lui... Jack va alors lui faire une proposition au sujet d'une partie de poker où il doit se rendre... un plan qui leur ferait gagner beaucoup d'argent...Pour la suite... à vous de le lire...


This is a super fun, smart, and ultimately powerful story about chance and money. The tone is both strange and familiar. Much of the dialogue is ripped right out of the experimental crime novels of the 1930s and 40s. The characters are fascinating creeps and lost lovers, and the setting is just bizarre enough to seem both very real and eerily prophetic. It felt timely - re: occupy movement - and timeless - re: chance. A fun roller coaster ride of a plot. Wow... talk about texture. This books is it! And interestingly it kind of denies any lyrical movements in favor of ellipsies and stress points until the denial itself feels lyrical. Highly recommend for lovers of the crime-ish novels of Denis Johnson (Nobody Move) and Charles Portis (Dog of the South).

Frank Jude

The Music of Chance (1990) by Paul Auster was published about a year after Moon Palace, one of my favorite contemporary novels which I re-read and reviewed in March. I remember not being as favorably impressed by The Music of Chance when I first read it back in 1990, though its theme about the ultimate meaninglessness of the universe had its appeal for me as I was struggling myself with the attempt to make sense of the world.Like the protagonists of his New York Trilogy, and Moon Palace, but more completely and in fact, taking it about as far as one can go, The Music of Chance’s Nashe follows a rigorous and random process of renunciation that ultimately pivots on “a single blind turn of a card” in a poker game. This is a suspense novel in which the major actions are cross-country driving, a poker game and the building of a stone wall! And I was engaged the whole time even as memories of where the plot was taking me arose as I re-read this straight-forward tale.I’m not into running through the plot here, so all I’ll say is that after re-reading this novel, it has rocketed to the top of my favorite novel list. Along with Moon Palace, and perhaps even before that wonderful book, The Music of Chance is a great place to dive into the work of Paul Auster if you are not already familiar with his writing.


This truly is an 'absurdist' novel. It's hard to describe the plot. A fireman's wife leaves him, and his life falls apart by his own choosing -- turning to driving incessantly across the country, abandoning his daugther to relatives, backing a professional poker play, who loses all of his money, resulting in their commitment to building a wall. It sounds crazy, but it's readable and I did come to care about the characters, although infuriated by their choices. Not sure why this writer is held in such high regard, based on this novel. Would try other novels of his.


auster has a tendency for ambiguous, detached endings that leave you with several questions unanswered.. and for the stories in the ny trilogy i think it works perfectly, but for this book it kind of left me a might disappointed. he starts to tell a real straight forward story, and it almost seems as though he ran out of ideas towards the end, left a lot of really important questions unanswered, and frantically put together a closing chapter. besides that... it was an entertaining read. the characters are authentic. it's worth it if you like auster's stuff... but i wouldn't recommend it to anyone who hasn't read city of glass.


Really enjoyed this,with such a small cast of characters it was very intense .To begin with,not much happened,and before you know it,the main man is in a crazy situation that he's just not getting out of.I'm liking Auster more with every book I read,his characters are very real,but his stories somewhat unexpected.


Once a man begins to recognise himself in another, he can no longer look on that person as a strangerJim Nashe is at a crossroads in his life, his wife has long left and his job is no longer fulfilling. So he goes out on the road, alone with his thoughts, things begin to happen, one thing after the other, until by chance he meets Jack Pozzi, a young upstart gambler willing to throw his life away on every bet he makes. ...all the stones were identical, and yet each stone was heavier than the one before itThis book revolves around causation and effect, and it is brilliantly put together. Paul Auster's writing is almost addictive in a way, teaching lessons, and recognising your own life in the story. Nuances of human thought are put into flowing prose, and no one is really how they seem. Really enjoyable. A perfect book for a late night insomnia episode.

Steve mitchell

Very well written, very original. Great book but I just couldnt give it a 10. In my book a 10 or 5 on Goodreads demands that I buy the book if I havent (I got this from the library) and tell everyone they must read it. I think the character Jack Pozzi "Jackpot" is a pun on Ponzi scheme? Just a guess. I wonder if this is Austers reply to the beatnicks on the road, and what happens if a person does not root down somewhere and commit to something. Look at the relationship that Nashe has with the journalist in San Fran, by the time he decides she is important and worth standing for its to late again.Auster uses money as a tool in a few of his stories I have read, in Music of Chance, he gives Nashe an inheritance and Nashe squanders it then tries to rebuild it to ruinous results with Pozzi. And in Invisible he gives the main character money to start a magazine. I think he likes this device, and makes a statement that some folks can be happy regardless of circumstance while others are unhappy even with most of lifes worries taken care of. This is almost a piece like zen and the art of motorcycle maintenenance, both because it speaks about parenting and having a passion for something. This is where the quote comes from during the novel, “You had to invent something. It's not possible to leave it blank. The mind won't let you." Nashe and Pozzi are talking about an episode in Pozzi youth.The act of building a giant wall or stone is a metaphor for fixing something broken in your life, you wasted your time and money, relationships, and now with each brick you can mend them. Maybe the time you take and the thinking while performing this job is therapeutic.I do really like Paul Auster and will read anything he writes, however I want to do something horrible like slap a baby or kick a dog or yell at an old person, after the sudden and incomplete ending! I just hate that he did not answer any of the questions posed during the story, like:possible spoilers*****************************What happened to Pozzi, what happened with Nashe did he die in the crash, how was his daughter, what about the 2 old fogies that had him build the wall. I also wonder if the 2 old men, Laurel and Hardy as Pozzi describes them, were a book or story that Auster was working on and then decided to just add them here? I wonder if he will come back to them in the future, they were very interesting and then out of the book the rest of the way.


It is difficult for me to read anything by Paul Auster and not feeling a complete sense of impending doom. Even when things appear to be going well, you know some random tragic unfortunate event is just around the corner. That being said, I think he's an incredible writer and I hope someday to have read all of his novels. In The Music of Chance, the main character Nashe inherits a bunch of money from his estranged father. He uses it to travel aimlessly around the country (reminded me of On the Road) when he comes across a young hitchhiker named Pozzi. Pozzi, a self-professed card shark needs some cash to take on a couple of millionaires in the game of a lifetime. Nashe must decide whether to help the kid out and ultimately deal with the fateful consequences that come as a result of his decision. Auster's books are often classified as "absurdist fiction" - the study of human behavior under highly unusual circumstances. This book certainly fits the bill. I also recommend The Book of Illusions and The New York Trilogy. His writing is haunting and these definitely aren't feel-good stories, but if you enjoy adding a little dread to your life (kind of like reading Edgar Allan Poe), definitely check Auster out.

Book Wormy

The Music of Chance Paul Auster217 Pages★★★★This is a novel about luck and chance and how you can be in the right place at the right time and just as equally in the wrong place at the wrong time.At first it is slow going as we follow Jim Nashe on his road trip, however he picks up badly beaten Jack Pozzi and from there things take a sinister turn.The ending of the novel is abrupt and I would have liked more things clearing up, however I can appreciate that clearing them up would have detracted from the sinister feeling the story left me with.


A friend spoke to me once of "concretizing the metaphor" when trying to write evocative and symbolically pregnant prose. Auster manages to do that very effectively in almost all of his works, and The Music of Chance is no exception. No one reading this work could help but be struck by the three cases of concrete metaphor on display here. The first is Stone's City of the World. The second is Flower's museum of unwanted objects, but the third and most compelling is surely The Wall. William Jennings Bryan once said, "Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice: It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved." Auster shows that choice, chance and destiny are not nearly the separate things that Bryan may imagine them to be. That it may be our choices that put us on destiny's path and that chance may play a role in us fullfilling our destiny, but also that it is our choice to be the victim of chance or the author of our own destiny.

Pablo Guzmán

En La música del azar me encuentro con el Auster de la gran imaginación, del azar, de personajes que intentan vivir y guiar sus propias vidas. Cierras el libro con un final inesperado, tras haber pensado durante 250 páginas que te gustaría lanzarte a la carretera, conducir tu vida; te quieres desatar de personas, trabajo y situaciones, para luego encontrarte y construir con tu pasado, junto a un nuevo amigo, un gran muro hecho de escombros de un castillo, levantando piedra a piedra, metro a metro, a quien has encontrado y eres en realidad. AUSTER, ERES GRANDE.

Ahmet Aslaner

THE THUNDER, PERFECT MINDTranslated by George W. MacRaeI was sent forth from the power, and I have come to those who reflect upon me, and I have been found among those who seek after me. Look upon me, you who reflect upon me, and you hearers, hear me. You who are waiting for me, take me to yourselves. And do not banish me from your sight. And do not make your voice hate me, nor your hearing. Do not be ignorant of me anywhere or any time. Be on your guard! Do not be ignorant of me. For I am the first and the last. I am the honored one and the scorned one. I am the whore and the holy one. I am the wife and the virgin. I am and the daughter. I am the members of my mother. I am the barren one and many are her sons. I am she whose wedding is great, and I have not taken a husband. I am the midwife and she who does not bear. I am the solace of my labor pains. I am the bride and the bridegroom, and it is my husband who begot me. I am the mother of my father and the sister of my husband and he is my offspring. I am the slave of him who prepared me. I am the ruler of my offspring. But he is the one who begot me before the time on a birthday. And he is my offspring in (due) time, and my power is from him. I am the staff of his power in his youth, and he is the rod of my old age. And whatever he wills happens to me. I am the silence that is incomprehensible and the idea whose remembrance is frequent. I am the voice whose sound is manifold and the word whose appearance is multiple. I am the utterance of my name. Why, you who hate me, do you love me, and hate those who love me? You who deny me, confess me, and you who confess me, deny me. You who tell the truth about me, lie about me, and you who have lied about me, tell the truth about me. You who know me, be ignorant of me, and those who have not known me, let them know me. For I am knowledge and ignorance. I am shame and boldness. I am shameless; I am ashamed. I am strength and I am fear. I am war and peace. Give heed to me. I am the one who is disgraced and the great one. Give heed to my poverty and my wealth. Do not be arrogant to me when I am cast out upon the earth, and you will find me in those that are to come. And do not look upon me on the dung-heap nor go and leave me cast out, and you will find me in the kingdoms. And do not look upon me when I am cast out among those who are disgraced and in the least places, nor laugh at me. And do not cast me out among those who are slain in violence. But I, I am compassionate and I am cruel. Be on your guard! Do not hate my obedience and do not love my self-control. In my weakness, do not forsake me, and do not be afraid of my power. For why do you despise my fear and curse my pride? But I am she who exists in all fears and strength in trembling. I am she who is weak, and I am well in a pleasant place. I am senseless and I am wise. Why have you hated me in your counsels? For I shall be silent among those who are silent, and I shall appear and speak, Why then have you hated me, you Greeks?Because I am a barbarian among the barbarians? For I am the wisdom of the Greeks and the knowledge of the barbarians. I am the judgement of the Greeks and of the barbarians. I am the one whose image is great in Egypt and the one who has no image among the barbarians. I am the one who has been hated everywhere and who has been loved everywhere. I am the one whom they call Life, and you have called Death. I am the one whom they call Law, and you have called Lawlessness. I am the one whom you have pursued, and I am the one whom you have seized. I am the one whom you have scattered, and you have gathered me together. I am the one before whom you have been ashamed, and you have been shameless to me. I am she who does not keep festival, and I am she whose festivals are many. I, I am godless, and I am the one whose God is great. I am the one whom you have reflected upon, and you have scorned me. I am unlearned, and they learn from me. I am the one that you have despised, and you reflect upon me. I am the one whom you have hidden from,and you appear to me. But whenever you hide yourselves, I myself will appear. For whenever you appear, I myself will hide from you. Those who have [...] to it [...] senselessly [...]. Take me [... understanding] from grief. and take me to yourselves from understanding and grief. And take me to yourselves from places that are ugly and in ruin, and rob from those which are good even though in ugliness. Out of shame, take me to yourselves shamelessly; and out of shamelessness and shame, upbraid my members in yourselves. And come forward to me, you who know me and you who know my members, and establish the great ones among the small first creatures. Come forward to childhood, and do not despise it because it is small and it is little. And do not turn away greatnesses in some parts from the smallnesses, for the smallnesses are known from the greatnesses. Why do you curse me and honor me? You have wounded and you have had mercy. Do not separate me from the first ones whom you have known. And do not cast anyone out nor turn anyone away [...] turn you away and [... know] him not.[...]. What is mine [...]. I know the first ones and those after them know me. But I am the mind of [...] and the rest of [...]. I am the knowledge of my inquiry, and the finding of those who seek after me, and the command of those who ask of me,and the power of the powers in my knowledge of the angels, who have been sent at my word, and of gods in their seasons by my counsel, and of spirits of every man who exists with me, and of women who dwell within me. I am the one who is honored, and who is praised, and who is despised scornfully. I am peace, and war has come because of me. And I am an alien and a citizen. I am the substance and the one who has no substance. Those who are without association with me are ignorant of me, and those who are in my substance are the ones who know me. Those who are close to me have been ignorant of me, and those who are far away from me are the ones who have known me. On the day when I am close to you, you are far away from me, and on the day when I am far away from you, I am close to you. [I am ...] within. [I am ...] of the natures. I am [...] of the creation of the spirits. [...] request of the souls. I am control and the uncontrollable. I am the union and the dissolution. I am the abiding and I am the dissolution. I am the one below, and they come up to me. I am the judgment and the acquittal. I, I am sinless, and the root of sin derives from me. I am lust in (outward) appearance, and interior self-control exists within me. I am the hearing which is attainable to everyone and the speech which cannot be grasped. I am a mute who does not speak, and great is my multitude of words. Hear me in gentleness, and learn of me in roughness. I am she who cries out, and I am cast forth upon the face of the earth. I prepare the bread and my mind within. I am the knowledge of my name. I am the one who cries out, and I listen. I appear and [...] walk in [...] seal of my [...]. I am [...] the defense [...]. I am the one who is called Truth and iniquity [...]. You honor me [...] and you whisper against me. You who are vanquished, judge them (who vanquish you) before they give judgment against you, because the judge and partiality exist in you. If you are condemned by this one, who will acquit you? Or, if you are acquitted by him, who will be able to detain you? For what is inside of you is what is outside of you, and the one who fashions you on the outside is the one who shaped the inside of you. And what you see outside of you, you see inside of you; it is visible and it is your garment. Hear me, you hearers and learn of my words, you who know me. I am the hearing that is attainable to everything; I am the speech that cannot be grasped. I am the name of the sound and the sound of the name. I am the sign of the letter and the designation of the division. And I [...]. (3 lines missing) [...] light [...]. [...] hearers [...] to you [...] the great power. And [...] will not move the name. [...] to the one who created me. And I will speak his name. Look then at his words and all the writings which have been completed. Give heed then, you hearers and you also, the angels and those who have been sent, and you spirits who have arisen from the dead. For I am the one who alone exists, and I have no one who will judge me. For many are the pleasant forms which exist in numerous sins, and incontinencies, and disgraceful passions, and fleeting pleasures, which (men) embrace until they become sober and go up to their resting place. And they will find me there, and they will live, and they will not die again. James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library, revised edition. HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1990.


Paul Auster is one of those artists who works around a reliable set of themes. Haruki Murakami, Martin Scorsese, and René Magritte are comfortably in this company as well. This isn't a bad thing, and I love all of these artists, but it means that I go into a Paul Auster novel with certain expectations, and I have a fairly good idea by now how things are going to turn out. This is also not a bad thing, as the journey to those end points in The Music of Chance is gripping and surreal and haunting, and I really, really didn't want it to end.

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