Author: Paul Auster
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publishing Date: 1990
Number of Pages: 371
Genre: Short Stories, Detective Fiction, Postmodern, Mystery Fiction
“CITY OF GLASS
As a result of a strange phone call in the middle of the night, Quinn, a writer of detective stories, becomes enmeshed in a case ore puzzling than any he might have written.
Blue, a student of Brown, has been hired by White to spy on Black. From a window of a rented room on Orange Street, Blue keeps watch on his subject, who is across the street, staring out of his window.
THE LOCKED ROOM
Fanshawe has disappeared, leaving behind his wife and baby and a cache of extraordinary novels, plays, and poems. What happened to him – and why is the narrator, Fanshawe’s boyhood friend, lured obsessively into his life?”
It has been a couple of years since I started doing must-read books list. Doing such has expounded the boundaries of my mind beyond the more amazing world of literature. It has set me up to a wonderful journey on books. One of the books that I keep encountering in these lists is Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy. I barely had an iota on who Paul Auster is but judging from the number of times I keep encountering his works in must-read lists, he seems to be a fairly accomplished author. Amongst his most prominent works is the aforementioned The New York Trilogy.
With my curiosity piqued, I resolved to indulge in his works. Unsurprisingly, it was a challenge availing a copy of his works as there is very little that can be bought in bookstores. The only way to avail a copy of Auster’s works is through online resellers and I was lucky enough to encounter one selling The New York Trilogy. Without further ado, I nabbed the chance at the very first instance. I made the book part of My 2018 Top 20 Reading List.
“In other words: It seems to me that I will always be happy in the place where I am not. Or, more bluntly: Wherever I am not is the place where I am myself. Or else, taking the bull by the horns: Anywhere out of the world.” ~ Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy
I have had an aversion towards short stories. I rarely find satisfaction in reading them because I always feel that the literary journey is often cut short. This is the reason why I prefer longer stories over shorter ones. Come to think of it, I didn’t finish the last short story collection I read – Haruki Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes. However, I was willing to make a concession. Auster’s work is after all part of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.
The book is comprised of three stories – City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room which were originally published separately but has since then been collectively published as a single collection. City of Glass, related the story of Quinn, a detective-fiction writer, who kept receiving mysterious calls in the middle of the night. The caller kept referring to him as a detective named Paul Auster. Ghosts related the story of a detective, Blue, who was hired by White to tail Black. The Locked Room was the story of Fanshawe, a writer who disappeared. His story was related by his childhood friend.
Because of the division and contrast, I initially felt the stories disjointed which is fine considering that they were originally published separately. However, as I immersed deeper into the narrative, I was able to make out the invisible threads that bind these three narratives together. This diversity made the book more engaging.
The first attribute that stood out in the three narratives is the recurring detective fiction theme which was present in the three narratives. The three short stories involved characters who went missing, hence, the need for sleuthing in the story. This attribute made the story interesting more so that I have always preferred mystery fiction, having feasted on Agatha Christie’s narrative.
The problem with detective novels is their tendency to be formulaic, following one single line. But what sets The New York Trilogy apart is Auster’s masterful postmodernist approach in relating the narrative. Auster moved out of the old mold of detective fiction by infusing surrealistic themes without sacrificing the integrity of the narrative. Rather, this wager paid off as this unorthodox approach made the story stand out more. Auster played around whilst still remaining true to the story.
“In the end, each life is no more than the sum of contingent facts, a chronicle of chance intersections, of ﬂukes, of random events that divulge nothing but their own lack of purpose.” ~ Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy
Although the three stories involve detective fiction, each one is still unique. However, at some points, the story lines and the characters converged. For instance, Fanshawe in The Locked Room referred to himself as Henry Dark, a fictional character mentioned in the City of Glass. Henry Dark is a metaphor for humanity’s stubbornness to do things even though it is wrong. Remember Humpty Dumpty? Another instance of characters cross-appearing is when City of Glass’ Quinn appeared in Ghosts. These circular movements make the reader all the more conscious of the story – they become keener of the changes and shifts in the story-telling.
On a more personal note, what I truly enjoyed about this book is its several allusions to different literary works and to literature in general. All throughout the story, several references to different authors and books were made. At its heart, The New York Trilogy can be referred to as a book about books. Moreover, the centrifugal theme in The Locked Room is writing in general. Reading and writing were extensively dealt with as well in the two stories.
Other than writing and reading, the stories also explored deep themes. Two of the most important themes depicted in the book are identity and existence. The former was the focal point of the City of Glass. Quinn is a writer but was mistaken for a detective named Paul Auster. Curious, he played along with it but the more he got immersed into the case, he began losing who he really is. This resulted into a shift in his persona. We all get so enmeshed in the characters we act out that we forget who we truly are. Existentialism also played a key role in the story, particularly that of The Locked Room.
The New York Trilogy is an engaging set of works. Paul Auster’s narrative and writing approach flowed naturally all throughout the narratives. His writing was further supplemented by the characters who were developed aptly. They matched the flow and nature of the stories. There were some extreme absurdities imbibed in the story but they only serve to make it all the more interesting. The smooth pacing of the story made it easier to appreciate and understand. Although there were three stories, the transition from one story to another was smooth.
“Our lives carry us along in ways we cannot control, and almost nothing stays with us. It dies when we do, and death is something that happens to us every day.” ~ Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy
Overall, The New York Trilogy is an engaging series of stories that has kept me hooked from the start to finish. Although each title is independent of each other, the narratives are bound by an invisible thread that keeps the story flowing. The writing style is quite new to me but something that I want to understand further. Even though I am not much into short stories this book showed me what I might be missing because of this whimsical aversion.
The New York Trilogy is my first venture into the works of Paul Auster. It is a promising start as the book piqued my curiosity. I want to gain a deeper understanding into the dynamics of his works. It seems that postmodernists have certainly captured my attention that I want to explore its every aspect. I hope I get to read more of Auster’s books and of other postmodernist authors as well.
Recommended for readers who are into postmodern fiction, readers who like short stories, those who like mind-boggling and puzzling plots, those who are into detective and crime fiction, and those who are into surrealism.
Not recommended for readers who prefer straightforward narrative, those who like don’t like short stories, and those who dislike absurdities in literature.
About the Author
Paul Benjamin Auster was born on February 3, 1947 in Newark, New Jersey to a Jewish middle-class parents of Polish descent.
After graduating from Columbia University, Auster spent four years in Paris, France before returning to United States. Upon his return, he began publishing his literary works as well translations of some French authors. His debut work, The Invention of Solitude (1982), is a memoir and received positive response from literary pundits. His reputation even grew further with the publication of a series of three loosely connected short stories which was later collectively published as The New York Trilogy [City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986), and The Locked Room (1986)].
His other renowned works include Moon Palace (1989), The Music of Chance (1990), and The Book of Illusions (2002). He has also written poetry, screenplays and essays. Moreover, he has also published several memoirs and autobiographies. His numerous works has also earned him several literary awards over the years.
He is currently living in Brooklyn, New York.