Leviathan by Paul Auster – A Book Review

I’ve said it many times before, but if you’re not reading Paul Auster, you’re really missing out.  He’s remarkably talented and his originality continues to impress me.

Leviathan literally means the biggest of its kind, and was also a sea monster from the Old Testament.  Knowing such things illuminates Auster’s reasoning behind titling his book as such.

In this tale, Peter Aaron’s friend, Ben Sachs-a once-promising author-accidentally blows himself up along a rural road using a homemade bomb.  Though it’d been years since Peter had communicated with his best-friend, he takes it upon himself to tell the story of how Ben had come to such an alarming and unusual end.  Since Sachs had been working on an abandoned novel called Leviathan, Peter (and Auster) calls his book the same.  Peter recounts his first meeting with Ben, and from there writes about their lives spent together and apart, along with all the friends and lovers that entered their lives and changed their fates with the smallest of intricacies and nuances.  Peter hopes to finish his book and elucidate the public on Ben and his bomb-making before the Feds bring shame upon Sachs’ name.

Though I didn’t care for Leviathan as much as the other books I’ve read by Auster, I want to make it abundantly clear that I consider most of Auster’s books to be without reproach.  It’s not that Leviathan wasn’t a good read, it’s that it wasn’t AS good as Auster’s other work; however, Auster’s weaker writing is still far better than others’ best.  Leviathan was utterly interesting and a page-turner, but I didn’t LOVE it like I do other Auster books.

Leviathan employs regular Auster themes such as isolation, the complexity of interpersonal relationships, and the desire to discard an identity and begin anew.  Leviathan also focuses on the ironic intersections and coincidences in life, and Auster weaves and melds seemingly meaningless occurrences early in the novel into rather important plot devices all the way to the story’s end.  The three-fold meaning of the book’s title alone illustrates the care Auster takes in layering his ironies. 

So while Leviathan is a very good read by most standards, I wouldn’t rate it among my top-tier Auster books.  I’m glad I read it, though, and the story of Ben Sachs is one that, even days after finishing the book, still resonates.