Keith Miller

Drawn & Quartered

4321

By

Faber & Faber 866pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Archibald Isaac Ferguson, Archie to his friends, is born in New Jersey in 1947. After that, things get complicated. His father dies horribly in a botched arson attack on his furniture store, or he lives to cash out on the insurance and move the family to stifling suburban affluence. His parents stay together, or they don’t. His mother becomes a renowned gritty-realist photographer married to a music critic, or stays unhappily (or happily) married. Archie himself loses his virginity to a ‘kissing cousin’, or in a Manhattan brothel, or to a male friend.

Paul Auster’s 4321 is really four novels in one, even if – spoiler alert – one of the stories runs shorter than the other three. It explores chance and contingency, tracing the impact of the small things that happen in any life (or don’t) to steer it hither or yon. Archie’s coming of age is sticky with adolescent male grue, but redeemed by a healthy dose of intellectual curiosity and – in some iterations at least – a dawning awareness of racial and political injustice, with civil rights, JFK, Vietnam, campus riots, the day they executed the Rosenbergs and so on seldom far from view.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Lecture on war and peace in 19th-century Europe by Professor Sir Richard Evans, Thurs 25 Oct, 6.30pm Europe House… ,
    • 'Why, throughout the world, are so many people fascinated by the fiction and reality of espionage? And why of all p… ,
    • . here on books, Muriel Spark and life's tangled dance ,
    • RT : There aren't enough aggressive subtitles these days: ,
    • Churchill's on the cover of the October edition of the magazine. Piers Brendon reviews two new books about the Brit… ,
    • 'Readers have no more power to predict where the next story is going to take them than the prisoners had to determi… ,
    • 'Ho was no Soviet or Chinese puppet. He was a nationalist first and foremost. Had the Americans just realised this.… ,