Paul Auster, ‘The New York Trilogy’
Review by Lydia Mark
The ringing phone in the corner of his boxy New York apartment brought Daniel Quinn back to life. As a somewhat retired writer, he had lived so long as a ghost that everybody had forgotten he was there until the telephone penetrated his solitary world. Usually, I see through “the ringing phone” cliché that appears and sometimes begins detective stories. Yet, in the first book of the trilogy, ‘City of Glass’, Paul Auster strips away the familiarity of this sort of beginning as Quinn does not seem remotely bothered by the phone; Daniel Quinn is a man with absolutely nothing to hide or expect.When the voice on the other end is finally heard, “it” was like a voice Quinn had never heard before, ‘mechanical and filled with feeling, hardly more than a whisper and yet perfectly audible’. It was asking for Paul Auster. Who is Paul Auster? Of course our award-winning novelist is Paul Auster. Elements like this make Auster’s 3 book-piece so intriguing because you enter the story in a state of confusion, which you really believe you can dispel if you just continue reading. A feature in the ‘1001 books you must read before you die’, The New York trilogy is an obscure comment on the mystery about mysteries. Effectively, Auster transforms the reader into the investigator in his take on the classic detective story.
‘City of Glass’ is ostensibly a film noir type with Quinn’s characterisation as the “cynical protagonist”, but as it unfolds Auster takes Quinn on a journey initiated by chance and the story becomes more than typical detective fiction. Though he is not a P.I, but a writer of crime fiction, Quinn laughably takes on a trail and report case but instead of facts all he is left with are meaningless stories from various characters. What I think differentiates ‘City of Glass’ from other detective stories and makes it so interesting is that it concentrates on the art of story itself, and not on whether the story does or is supposed to mean anything at all. Auster so seamlessly strings together the events of Quinn’s case that you find yourself flipping back the pages to find the link you missed. By this point you realise you are trapped in the mystery just like Quinn.
However, I did not think ‘Ghosts’ was as successful in encouraging our natural instinct to explore and discover. ‘Ghosts’ is the second story about Blue who is asked by White to follow Black. While this story creates the same sense of confusion as the first, I felt that all the events were thrown together deliberately to confuse the reader and lacked the subtlety I admired so much about ‘City of Glass’. Evidently Auster is a fan of delayed gratification as I found myself racing to the last book, ‘The Locked Room’. This one is frustratingly good as by now the reader knows an open ending is inevitable, but as it’s the last book we’re still hanging on and hoping for that satisfactory ending that, of course, never comes.
So, would I read this novel again? Yes and no. Part of the thrill is the unexpected, so in a second reading this feeling would be eliminated. However the open endings, twisted plots and characters hopping from one book to another are great devices that create a circular nature in the novel. Essentially, the only way to uncover the mystery that pervades ‘The New York Trilogy’ is to go back to the start…