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Authors like Paul Auster: Transcendental Tales

Jonny_Sweet_itcher_contributorDoes the disorientating and gradually-increasing sense of despair and doom found in the novels of Paul Auster keep you hooked without knowing why? If so, try some of the cryptically-addictive works of Mikhail Bulgakov, Albert Camus or Haruki Murakami.
~ Jonny Sweet
Whilst many of Paul Auster’s novels are ostensibly crime fiction whodunits, it quickly becomes clear to the reader that these are anything but conventional thrillers. Rather, the culprit of the crime – if indeed the novel actually contains a culprit, or even a crime – rarely come to the surface.Instead, authors like Paul Auster use certain tropes and styles to investigate deeper themes than those explored in the plot. Namely, these are normally the monotony and futility of life, alienation from others and existentialism, focused around a central character who often is a writer or storytelling and who deteriorates throughout the novel in manifold ways.Such a description may sound irredeemably bleak, but any fans of his work will know that there is something, some knack of writing and keeping the reader interested, something special about Paul Auster; similar authors exhibit similar traits, although with varying degrees of style and success.

If you enjoy this style of writing, as I do, here is a list of authors like Auster to get your teeth into once you have read your fill of the author of The New York Trilogy.


Haruki Murakami

Haruki MurakamiI have a love/hate relationship with Murakami. I love his manner of storytelling; I sometimes hate the stories he chooses to tell – or at least, their often unsatisfactory conclusions.

Like Auster, Murakami weaves an enthralling picture of the cities and settings in which his stories take place; and also like Auster, he leads the reader down a path that neither seems to know where it will lead.

Both authors frequently concentrate on lonely writers as their central characters, who struggle to overcome personal problems, and both are characterised by light-hearted melancholy undercut with crushing depression.

If you haven’t yet discovered the charms of Murakami’s work, here is a handful of his more accessible efforts to get you started.

Image source: emaze

Both Paul Auster and Haruki Murakami focus on lonely writers who struggle to deal with their own problems in worlds which become increasingly alien, the more you read.


Albert Camus

Albert CamusAn Algerian-born Frenchman, Camus’ writing shares the same existentialist approach to life as Auster’s work.

See in particular The Outsider (also translated as The Stranger), which uses short, uncomplicated sentences and succinct phrasing to detail the more mundane happenings in the life of a confessed murderer. Sounds provocative? It is.

This novel brilliantly encapsulates the disillusionment that Camus and Auster seem to share about modern society and life in general.

Image source: devon

Albert Camus is preoccupied with existentialism and the meaninglessness of life in much the same way that Paul Auster is.


Julian Barnes

Julian BarnesThe latter novel by Ishiguro was nominated for the Man Booker prize in 2005; in the same year, Arthur & George by Julian Barnes was also shortlisted for the accolade. (In the event, neither won it; instead it went to John Banville’s The Sea.)

This detective yarn, based on the true story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s attempt to help clear the name of an innocent man, is similar to Auster in its playful tone, its addictive page-turning nature and its focus away from the traditional intrigues of a whodunit.

It’s not so important here who committed the crime or how – but rather, who didn’t.

Barnes is less existentialist and obtuse than Auster, but he does explore wider themes of spiritualism, identity and the queer correlation between innocence and guilt in an expert manner.

Image source: JulianBarnes

Julian Barnes and Paul Auster both write unconventional crime fiction which generally asks deeper questions than the simple who, where and why of a crime scene.


Mikhail Bulgakov

Mikhail BulgakovWhile Bulgakov is perhaps more directly unorthodox (or just plain weirder) than Auster, they do share certain similarities in their ability to effectively create a general sense of unease in the reader, without them really knowing why.

His most famous work by far is The Master and Margarita – and deservedly so. The book combines an engaging story with unsettling characters, sequences bordering on slapstick and an undercurrent of vague satirical commentary.

However, Bulgakov also has other important works – check out The Heart of a Dog or some of his many short stories if you liked The Master.

Image source: wikipedia

Both Paul Auster and Mikhail Bulgakov explore interesting and unusual events in seemingly innocuous settings – but the latter is more surreal than the former.


Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo IshiguroFrom one Japanese-born novelist to another, Kazuo Ishiguro also writes about real life and real situations, tinged with sadness and nostalgia.

Ishiguro is less obscure and existentialist than Auster, but his novel When We Were Orphans is an unusual detective story in a similar vein to Auster’s and focuses on a central character who is as oddly eccentric as many of Auster’s.

Meanwhile, Never Let Me Go is more than just a nostalgic look at the halcyon schooldays of three young friends; indeed, it is an incisive and insightful criticism of modern society and how easy alienation in today’s world has become.

Image source: en8848

Kazuo Ishiguro and Paul Auster both write engaging stories about lonely individuals; but whereas the former generally commentates on the physical world, the latter prefers more existential subject matter.


Any Others to Add?

Have I made a glaring error in omitting your favourite author like Paul Auster, whether he be existentialist, obscure, mundane or simply weird?If so, set me straight in the comments section; I’m always on the lookout for new authors which I might enjoy… as I’m sure everybody else is.


I′m Jonny, an English Literature graduate who decided careers and mortgages were too mundane, and travelling, film, music and books were much more enticing. I have recently made a very comfortable nest for myself in Santiago de Chile, and on itcher Mag where I regularly contribute eloquent waffle on all manner of media.
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