Auster memoir continues in a Report from the Interior

Just over a year ago I reviewed Paul Auster’s Winter Journal on and reflected on Auster’s ability to explore universal experience by focusing on the individual. Auster’s latest book, Report from the Interior, takes his exploration a step further by focusing on memories of his inner life from childhood, through his teens and early twenties, not because Auster believes that that he is in some way unique or exceptional but rather because he believes that he isn’t — that his experience is similar to that of every man — and therefore universal.

This raises interesting issues such as the extent to which memory is reliable and unique and how it is shaped or influenced by later remembrances.

While there is a sweetness in Auster’s recollection of childhood beliefs or the confusion and loneliness of his early twenties, this focus on the universal occasionally skirts close to the banal — but perhaps that is the point.

Report from the Interior consists of four sections:

  1. Report from the Interior which recalls childhood and adolescent memories using the second person voice;
  2. Two Blows to the Head which describes two movies that influenced Auster;
  3. Time Capsule comprising extracts from letters written by Auster to his first wife before their marriage;
  4. Album, a collection of photographs illustrating events contemporaneous with the first three sections.

Auster’s addresses the first section to his younger self using the second person — ‘you’ — as he did in the Winter Journal. Perhaps because inner thoughts are more intimate or individual than physical experience, this use of the second person is unsettling and occasionally distracting. Who is ‘you’? Auster himself? You, the reader? You, the universal man?

The second section, ‘Two Blows to the Head’, sets out descriptions of the movies The Incredible Shrinking Man and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang which are skilfully written and very visual.

Then Auster moves on to draw on emotive letters he wrote to his first wife before their marriage in the section entitled ‘Time Capsule’. This section reveals a somewhat depressed, lonely young man who is none the less developing growing confidence in his writing ability.

The book closes out with an Album of photographs drawn from various sources that illustrate the reminiscences set out in the earlier sections.

Readers who are of Auster’s generation — particularly those who were bookish children — are likely to find many resonances with their own childhood memories in Report from the Interior  

Report from the Interior is published by Henry Holt & Company. ISBN 9780805098570. [Disclosure: an advance copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review].