Timbuktu by Paul Auster

Finished Reading another “random book” last night: Timbuktu by Paul Auster a book about a wandering dog. I thought I would give you a quick take.

Obviously a book about a dog appeals to me as I love dogs and consider my own dogs practically my closest companions outside my wife. But while this book was interesting and well written in parts, it is a little to loose and sloppy to be great. Here is the dust jacket intro:

Mr. Bones, the canine hero of Paul Auster’s astonishing new book, is the sidekick and confidant of Willy G. Christmas, a brilliant and troubled homeless man from Brooklyn, As Willy’s body slowly expires, he sets off with Mr. Bones for Baltimore in search of his high school English teacher and a new home for his companion. Mr. Bones is our witness during their journey, and out of his thoughts Paul Auster has spun one of the richest, most compelling tales in recent American fiction.

The problem is that Auster never quite pulls it off. The characters are interesting and the writing is lively – if a bit rambling in a stream of consciousness kind of way – but the little book reads more like a short story.

In the first half of the book Auster introduces the main characters: Willy G. Christmas – to quote kirkus “a logomaniacal drunk who lost his mind in 1968 while a student at Columbia, where he cultivated an image as an outlaw poet and indulged heavily in mind-altering drugs” – and Mr. Bones – his canine companion. While the perspective is Mr. Bones’ Willy is center stage. The story of Willy’s life is an interesting one – from up-and-coming poet to schizophrenic wanderer – and Auster relays it in a light hearted semi-tragic way.

In the second half of the book the story fully switches to Mr. Bones and we get his perspective on the wandering life. Auster uses Mr. Bones to try and get a fresh perspective on human beings. As if we saw life through the eyes of a dog we would gain insight into the human condition. And this is where the book breaks down. It is obviously some sort of meditation on homelessness but it really doesn’t add a great deal of insight or moral clarity – unless you view Mr. Bones’ odd mix of stoicism and tolerance as insight. The deeper you get into the book the more the prose becomes pedestrian and even sappy. The plot lacks a clear point. By the end it reads like a college creative writing essay: “write a story from the perspective of a dog.” I won’t spoil it, in case you want to read it yourself, but I thought the ending was particularly bad.

I wouldn’t recommend you run out and read Timbuktu but if you find the subject interesting – and you enjoy a sort of tragic sense of life – you might enjoy Timbuktu

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).