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The New York Trilogy

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ZebraMc mentioned he'd read this, so I'd love to hear your thoughts, Zebra. I also see that Adrian started a thread on Oracle Night. I haven't read your thoughts yet, Adrian, as I haven't read Oracle Night yet, but on the strength of The NY Trilogy, I hope to read it soon.

Anyone else read any Paul Auster?

Here are my thoughts on The NY Trilogy:


It's taken me a long time to get round to reading Paul Auster's work, and after devouring his fictional debut, the three novelettes that make up The New York Trilogy, which he wrote in the mid 1980s, I'm very pleased to have finally discovered him.

The three stories that make up the trilogy are entitled City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room. Auster takes the standard cocktail of the private detective tale and adds a pinch of knowing guile, a sprinkling of wry games with the reader, and a twist of - well, a twist of a twist.

The first story, City of Glass, concerns a widowed writer, Quinn, who is drawn into a private investigation due to his identity being mixed up - or is it?- with a detective who may or may not exist. The case involves a man whose father, a theology academic, used his son to experiment a woolly theory he had postulated.

The second, Ghosts, involves a private detective being hired by a man to trail another man.

The third, The Locked Room, is about a writer who is contacted by the ex-wife of a long-lost friend who has disappeared.


In all three stories, the protagonist embarks on a quest to clarify the life of another and gradually loses himself in the search. What starts as a job becomes a compulsion, an obsession, with the investigator pouring his whole being into the person under investigation to the point of existential nightmare. Sometimes the investigator engineers the ending of the hunt themselves as a means of escape.

Auster writes with a crisp, precise, methodical clarity not unlike that of Ishiguro, exploring every option as it comes up, explaining every motive and thought in each of the main protagonist's heads, so that we can almost understand their decline into insanity. Yet each story also includes characters who act in bizarre ways for unknown reasons, and this builds a sense of intrigue and fascination that holds the attention completely.

The games Auster plays are also fun. There's the fact that he himself appears in City of Glass, as a writer in New York (where he lives), married to his real-life wife. There's the fact that names and characters recur. Quinn, the hapless writer drawn into becoming a private eye in City of Glass crops up again in The Locked Room as a professional private eye. The names Peter Stillman and Henry Dark, appear in both these stories, as does Green in Ghosts and The Locked Room, although as different characters. Themes and objects pop up again - a red notebook, certain significant dates - 1976, 1983. Most of the surnames in Ghosts are colours. In City of Glass, Quinn's fate mirrors his client's early experience. This a symmetry and knowingness to the novels adds to the beguiling seduction of the stories. The imagery is often surreal and striking - in City of Glass, Quinn dreams that he is alone in a room, firing a pistol into a bare wall. This scenario occurs for real in The Locked Room.


Of course the reader is left with unanswered questions to puzzle over about people's motives, the reasons behind apparently inexplicable actions. This is Auster's intention - there is no smug wrapping up of mystery in these tales. You're left wanting more, which is the best way to close a novel.


****0 1/2

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Hi Leyla


I agree with almost everything you say here (except that I am a "she"! ;)). I first read these stories quite a few years ago, and coming back to them, remembered how utterly disoriented they left me. Auster really does lead his characters and the reader a merry dance. Whilst I'm not sure that I fully understand the meaning of everything he writes, I do like the repetitions of colours, dates etc and the way the characters pop up in otherwise seemingly unconnected stories. I love most of all the fact that these stories leave me thinking about them for many evenings after I have finished. I was even prompted to try to describe them to DH (who doesn't read fiction at all) in the hope of straightening out my thoughts - a real challenge: a bit like writing down music (Miss Smilla says this in Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow and I think it describes this feeling beautifully).


I have read other Auster - most recently Man in the Dark and I do think his writing has matured into something almost less challenging, but an easier ride for the poor reader. Further the the NYT, some other re-reads have crept into my TBR pile. I have a terrible memory and do a lot of re-reading.



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Very much enjoyed the experience of reading this book. I was captivated and intrigued all the way through each of the three novellas. And there isn't much to add to the excellent reviews upthread. I do wish there'd been more clues as to the true nature of the Stillman case, and as to why Fanshawe opted out of his life. Not because I expected the mysteries to be resolved, for early on it was clear to me that that wasn't the aim of the stories. But merely to give me some additional jumping off points for my own speculation. All in all a fascinating read! 5 stars!

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