In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster

The account in the form of a letter of a girl who has gone to look for her missing brother in a dystopian city where everything that provides a sense of self is vanishing.

There’s a constant sense of an author discovering and enjoying his talent in this short novel. He doesn’t waste energy on making his world logically plausible or itemising how the apocalyptic disaster happened. We’re very much in an existential twilight zone world. The tone essentially is one of macabre playfulness. There’s lots of black humour as for example in the many cults (often of a suicidal nature) that have formed to deal with the growing hopelessness of the situation. My favourite were “The Runners”. The runners run as fast as they can, waving their arms about wildly until they simply drop dead. Like jogging taken to a whole new level in other words. There’s lots of parody of our contemporary world – every scavenger has a supermarket trolley, his or her most precious possession, tied to her waist like an umbilical cord. “That is what the city does to you. It turns your thoughts inside out. It makes you want to live, and at the same time it tries to take your life away from you.”

But along with the humour there’s also a chilling evocation of the Nazi ghettos and concentration camps. Ann eventually finds herself in Woburn House, a privileged enclave which calls to mind the morally dubious benefits of belonging to the Jewish council in the ghetto. Auster’s prose, as ever, is sparse, almost beaurocratic in its conclusive rejection of the colour purple. In the Country of Last Things is an enjoyable thought provoking read though not on the level of the fabulous The New York Trilogy. paul-auster


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