Cover image for Oracle night
Oracle night
Auster, Paul, 1947-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Henry Holt, 2003.
Physical Description:
243 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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Several months into his recovery from a near-fatal illness, thirty-four-year-old novelist Sidney Orr enters a stationery shop in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn and buys a blue notebook. It is September 18, 1982, and for the next nine days Orr will live under the spell of this blank book, trapped inside a world of eerie premonitions and puzzling events that threaten to destroy his marriage and undermine his faith in reality.

Why does his wife suddenly break down in tears in the backseat of a taxi just hours after Sidney begins writing in the notebook? Why does M. R. Chang, the owner of the stationery shop, precipitously close his business the next day? What are the connections between a 1938 Warsaw telephone directory and a lost novel in which the hero can predict the future? At what point does animosity explode into violence? To what degree is forgiveness the ultimate expression of love?

Paul Auster's mesmerizing eleventh novel reads like an old-fashioned ghost story. But there are no ghosts in this book--only flesh-and-blood human beings, wandering through the haunted realms of everyday life. At once a meditation on the nature of time and a journey through the labyrinth of one man's imagination, Oracle Night is a narrative tour de force that confirms Auster's reputation as one of the boldest, most original writers at work in America today.

Author Notes

Paul Auster was born on February 3, 1947, in Newark, New Jersey. He received a B.A. and a M.A. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. In addition to his career as a writer, Auster has been a census taker, tutor, merchant seaman, little-league baseball coach, and a telephone operator. He started his writing career as a translator. He soon gained popularity for the detective novels that make up his New York Trilogy. His other works include The Invention of Solitude; Leviathan; Moon Palace; Facing the Music; In the Country of Last Things; The Music of Chance; Mr. Vertigo; and The Brooklyn Follies. His latest novels are entitled, Invisible and Sunset Park. In addition to his novels, Auster has written screenplays and directed several films. He is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a French Prix Medicis for Foreign Literature.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Auster's approach to storytelling becomes more mystical, more intense, more labyrinthine, and more noir with each novel. Like The Book of Illusions (2002), Auster's newest metaphysical fable portrays a man haunted by the vagaries of memory, the promise of death, the longing to be good. He also lives in fear that his wife will leave him. Struggling to fully recover from a nearly fatal illness, Sidney, a writer living in Brooklyn, is intrigued when a close friend (and a more famous writer) suggests that Sidney write a variation on a Dashiell Hammett tale about a man who abruptly walks away from his life. After purchasing a seemingly enchanted blue notebook (blue has magical and moral connotations for Auster), Sidney begins feverishly writing a dark, fabulously archetypal fairy tale about a book editor named Nick, a rediscovered manuscript of a World War I novel titled Oracle Night in which a British officer is blinded and then cursed with the unbearable gift of prophecy, and Ed Victory, a man on a strange mission in Kansas City. As one spellbinding and provocative storyline leads breathlessly to another, characters and readers alike are lured deep into the maze of the psyche until Auster orchestrates a terrifying denouement that burns away all ambiguity, leaving his hero enraptured by the radiance of what matters most: love. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

One morning in September 1982, a struggling novelist recovering from a near-fatal illness purchases, on impulse, a blue notebook from a new store in his Brooklyn neighborhood. So begins Auster's artful, ingenious 12th novel, which is both a darkly suspenseful domestic drama and a moving meditation on chance and loss. Reflecting on a past conversation and armed with his new notebook, Sidney Orr is compelled to write about a man who walks away from his comfortable, staid life after a brush with death a contemporary retelling of the Flitcraft episode in Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. Orr's description of his fictional project takes over for a while, but through a framing narrative and a series of long, occasionally digressive footnotes, he teasingly reveals himself, his lovely wife, Grace, and their mutual friend, the famous novelist John Trause. While Orr's hero finds himself locked in a bomb shelter, Grace begins behaving strangely, the stationery shop is shuttered, John's drug-addicted son looms menacingly in the background and the blue notebook exerts a troubling power. The plot of this bizarrely fascinating novel strains credibility, but Auster's unique genius is to make the absurd coherent; his stories have a dreamlike, hallucinatory logic. The title comes from the name of the novel that appears within the story Orr is writing, and hints at the book's theme: that fiction might be at some level prophetic, not merely reflecting reality but shaping it. There is tension, however, between power and impotence: as Orr puts it, "Randomness stalks us every day of our lives, and those lives can be taken from us at any moment for no reason at all." Author tour. (Dec. 2) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Spooky things transpire after novelist Sidney Orr buys a blank book. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From Oracle Night : It was the second bewildering conversation we'd had in the past eighteen hours. Once again, Grace had been hinting at something she refused to name, some kind of inner turmoil that seemed to be dogging her conscience, and it left me at a loss, groping dumbly to figure out what was going on. And yet how tender she was that evening, how glad to accept my small ministrations, how happy to have me sit beside her on the bed. After all we'd been through together in the past year, after all her steadfastness and composure during my long illness, it seemed impossible that she could ever do anything that would disappoint me. And even if she did, I was foolish enough and loyal enough not to care. I wanted to stay married to her for the rest of my life, and if Grace had slipped at some point or done something she wasn't proud of, what difference could that make in the long run? It wasn't my job to judge her. I was her husband, not a lieutenant in the moral police, and I meant to stand by her no matter what. Excerpted from Oracle Night: A Novel by Paul Auster All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.