Paul Auster has some ideas about how to resist what he says is going to be a real assault on American society. We meet in the novelist’s Brooklyn brownstone the week Donald Trump is inaugurated as president of the United States. Auster, who turned 70 yesterday, is “very frightened and very angry”.

“What I would love to see in this country is people pushing back on everything they try to get done – and internationally if Trump has the stupidity to try to get out of the Paris climate-change accord, why not have a world boycott of American goods? All the signatories to that treaty say, ‘All right, we’re going to punish you by not buying anything from your country any more.’ It’s a suggestion.”

He has a few more.

“You don’t want to put people at risk, but if there was a general strike of all immigrant workers, the whole economy would shut down. We wouldn’t function. There’s no hotel or restaurant that would remain open.”

It’s something that Auster and his wife, the novelist and essayist Siri Hustvedt (who is typing upstairs), are deeply troubled by. Hustvedt recently gave an impassioned speech on the steps of New York Public Library, and she and their singer-songwriter daughter, Sophie Auster, plan to attend the Women’s March in Washington, DC, that weekend. Auster has been called on to speak out too. This year he will accept the presidency of the literary organisation Pen America, a role he has previously resisted, as one way of taking a personal and public stand. 

“I have a new metaphor for thinking about what’s going to happen. Until now America has been a pretty solid country. Apart from the civil war we’ve had peaceful transference of power. We think of ourselves as a country of laws and institutions, and because they’ve seemed so solid I tend to think of these institutions as granite buildings. 


“Well, I think what we may discover now is that these buildings are actually made of soap and that when the new administration takes over in a few days, and they start shooting their hoses at those supposed granite buildings, they’re going to melt and turn to suds, and we’ll just have water running in the streets. We have to be very vigilant to prevent those hoses being put on full blast. 

“End of my comment,” he adds wryly.

It’s a startling, uncomfortable image with a touch of the ridiculous: the United States dissolving into bubbles at the behest of a group of predominantly white men with water guns. But then Auster has always had a bent towards the absurd and the surreal, which doesn’t necessarily mean the fantastical. If anything his “postmodern” fiction, with its frequently unstable sense of truth and reality, seems more resonant now than ever, as we enter what seems like a new type of reality.

Auster clearly gets a kick out of the strangeness of life; it is territory he has consistently courted in his writing. Before I sit down we’re talking about his experiences of Ireland, and he brings up literary curiosities such as James Joyce’s glasses or Samuel Beckett’s telephone, which you can find at Dublin Writers Museum. “Ridiculous things, Brendan Behan’s typewriter. It’s kind of a museum of irrelevant facts,” he says with dry amusement.