Winter Journal by Paul Auster

Perhaps the greatest human achievement, Paul Auster suggests, is to be lovable at the end of life when the body is failing and indignities abound.

Winter Journal begins as a memoir of the body but moves through physical experience to maturity and acceptance in an essentially existentialist reflection on life from the perspective of middle age. Perhaps best described as a hymn to humanity, in Winter Journal Auster presents a meditation on existence that focuses on the individual to explore universal experience.

Notwithstanding a plethora of lists — the many places a body finds itself over the course of a lifetime, the houses Auster lived in at different times, the candies he liked as a child — Winter Journal is more meditative than narrative. Its focus is on the universal truth that each of us inhabits a single body for our time on earth — a body that is our constant companion when we are three years old and studying the insects at our feet and when we are sixty three and beset by the physical ailments of aging, a body that carries forward our childhood scars, our memories  and the multitude of mundane physical experiences that we share with all humanity.

Intensely human, Winter Journal is also profoundly personal as Auster shares details of the panic attacks he endured following the death of his mother and describes the guilt he still feels for failing to confront an uncle who was rude to a mourner at his father’s funeral.

There are insights into the writer’s life — from accounts of making a space to write in the various places that he lived to a  description of the role that watching dancers played in releasing his writer’s block just before his father’s death and, later,  how he uses walking as a means to “bring the words” to his writing.

Winter Journal is written in the second person thereby allowing Auster to speak directly to his younger self while at the same time creating an intimacy with the reader. Relatively short at just 240 pages, this is an intelligent and reflective everyman memoir that will strike a chord with many readers — particularly older readers who will find much to identify with in Auster’s poetic prose.

An advance reader’s edition was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

True Compass – A Memoir by Edward M Kennedy

Like most Irish people, I have always had an interest in Edward M Kennedy or Ted Kennedy and his famous brothers.

Indeed, any Irish child of  the sixties will have memories of the Kennedys. Few other families can claim to have influenced history in quite the same way as the Irish American Kenndy clan – the glamour, the tragedy, the flawed greatness. And Edward M Kennedy was no exception. Whatever you think of the mistakes he made throughout his life, it is hard not to respect his attempts to learn from them. True Compass: A Memoir starts a little shakily and you have sense of it being written at speed but as he gets into his stride – and particularly in the chapters where he talks about John F Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Nixon, Carter and Clinton – you can’t help but be fascinated by Edward M Kennedy’s view. He is an intelligent and sharp observer and has some interesting insights. This Edward M Kennedy memoir makes me want to read more about that period. If you are dithering over whether to buy this or not, I don’t hesitate to recommend it. I found it readable and interesting.

Mad World : Evelyn Waugh and the Lygons of Brideshead by Paula Byrne

Evelyn Waugh, the English author best known for his novels A Handful of Dust and Brideshead Revisited, is the subject of a new biography by Paula Byrne.

Mad World : Evelyn Waugh and the Lygons of Brideshead (or Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead) is a  very engaging and readable biography.

It sent me back to re-read Waugh – especially A Handful of Dust, Brideshead Revisited, and the Sword of Honour trilogy. I also bought the DVD box set of the original ITV Brideshead Revisited series after reading this book.

If  enjoyed Downton Abbey and haven’t already seen Brideshead Revisited, do check it out.

As for Byrne’s biography. I enjoyed it.