January 27, 2009
The New York Trilogy
First published in: “City of Glass” (1985), “Ghosts” (1986) and “The Locked Room” (1986).
This edition (as a trilogy): Penguin Books 1990.
Cover design by Greg Mollica
The only R&R featuring Ava, sort of my alter-ego. It had to be her this time. You’ll possibly understand when you read this review.
One morning last February, I was standing right outside a Starbucks in New York City and for some reason decided to look down. And there they were. Three twenty dollar bills. I planted my foot down immediately – because it was windy there, around the Empire State Building. Then of course I looked around and waited for a couple of minutes, to see if anyone was groping their pockets or frantically looking for something. I could have yelled “Yo, who lost 60 dollars?” but we all know people aren’t that honest. Anyway, there was no one. So I kindly thanked New York, promised to give back to the city by visiting again soon and then I took Wil to The Strand to spend the money on a just cause. Books.
One of the books I decided on was Auster’s “New York Trilogy”, partly as a nod to the city, which serves as the atmospheric backdrop to most of Auster’s novels.
“The New York Trilogy” is in intricate work consisting of three detective novella’s, seemingly stand-alone. Each novella has its own storyline, all with common themes and elements.
“City of Ghosts” begins with a phonecall to Daniel Quinn, a writer, who is mistaken for ‘Paul Auster’ (yes, Auster features himself in the book), whose services are requested to help search for a young man’s father, one Peter Stillman. Bored with his life and lacking inspiration for his writing, Quinn decides to pose as ‘Paul Auster’ and takes on the job to find Stillman. Instead of finding much of an answer, Quinn instead slowly loses something… his grip on himself.
“Ghosts” is an interesting take on the detective novel, reminiscent of film noir (or a graphic novel). Blue is hired by White to spy on Black… but what if the spy becomes the one spied on?
Finally, “The Locked Room” is the one connecting the trilogy as a whole. A mediocre writer (the narrator of this third novella) becomes the literary executor for an old friend, who has mysteriously vanished. What happened, and why is it so hard to let go?
To me personally, this quote found in “The Locked Room” is a perfect way to begin explaining what Auster is trying to do: “The story is not in the words. It’s in the struggle.” (p.346 of my edition.)
In this trilogy, which is a wonderful example of meta-fiction, Auster is exploring the techniques used in the writing of detective novels. He’s looking beneath the surface of the novels in the detective genre. Identity is a big factor; each ‘detective’ in this trilogy is trying to find someone else, but obsession forces him to be confronted with his own self.
Introspection is another theme, which is evident from the fact that Auster has incorporated a lot of himself in this book, not only by introducing the character ‘Paul Auster’ but also by using the names of various loved ones for his characters (one character is named Sophie, also the name of his daughter. Another is named Daniel, the name of his son, and so on). Details such as these makes me value the idea that perhaps Auster writes to also explore himself as a writer and individual.
What Auster has accomplished is that the reader, initially a bystander, becomes a ‘detective’ too. Reading the trilogy is thrilling, adventurous even; I found myself on the look-out for underlying connections and patterns throughout the book. Trying to find clues, searching for possible predictions and what ties these three novellas together. The ‘detectives’ in the novellas become the watched; the readers are the ones observing them, trying to find anwers.
Are there any answers? There is some form of a conclusion, yes, but much is left unresolved. But that isn’t necessarily what makes a book great. “Oracle Night”, another one of Auster’s meta-fiction novels, was quite unresolved in many ways as well, but I learned to be more aware of the reading and writing process, not just to focus my attention on a satisfying conclusion.
What I gained from “The New York Trilogy” is to actually get a real kick out of the reading experience. I am a bit of a ‘detective’ now no matter what book I read.
R&R series (and its photos, reviews) © Karin Elizabeth 2008-2009
© Karin E. Lips
2008-2010 and beyond.
September 16, 2008
First published in 2003
This edition: First edition, Henry Holt & Company 2003
Cover design by Raquel Jaramillo
Book bought in New York
Read by the same author: The Brooklyn Follies (and after this review, The New York Trilogy)
On one of his walks, Sidney Orr, a novelist recovering from a near-fatal illness, discovers a new stationary store in New York. There, he becomes mystified with a blue notebook, which he buys and uses immediately upon his return home. While using the notebook to write the manuscript for what could be his next novel, Orr's life is disrupted by odd events which he cannot explain. It's when his wife Grace suddenly disappears without a trace, that Orr finds himself helpless and losing control of reality.
When I started reading this book, there was so much to be excited about. Auster had plenty of material ready to be worked out more thoroughly, and a number of great and original ideas to continue on with in this book. But he did not work with them much, and left many questions unanswered, issues and mysteries unresolved.
However, this is not the main goal of the book. To have answers to everything and a perfectly rounded up plot.
Like many of Auster's other books, we're looking at a work of meta-fiction: a novel where the act of writing fiction in itself is found to be the most important subject of the book. It's almost like an open demonstration about fiction and methods used to construct it. Meta-fiction, I suppose, for its writer is about the "road taken", and not about the destination. The Finished Project is, in this case, rather irrelevant.
Auster uses many clever tricks to explore the elements of fictional writing. There is the use of footnotes and the novel-in-a-novel structure of the text. The protagonist is a struggling writer. Even the book's jacket design reminds me of a blue notebook.
This is a book which will leave many of its readers to feel immensely disappointed, because of the lack of closure. But this is why Oracle Night is perhaps a very brave book, one that could teach its readers, and other writers, to think more about what is written right now, instead of "what happens next" and to be more aware of the act of writing in itself. Or, the art of writing.
Oracle Night took a suprising form which I can accept and check out further. It definitely tickled my brain a little, and now intrigues me enough to go ahead and try out some other works in order to better understand what Auster and other metafiction authors are trying to make their readers explore. Because no, Oracle Night alone did not make me understand metafiction as I now think I am supposed to understand it. But it got me thinking about this different side to both reading and writing. And I think that side of it is quite interesting.
(It was a while later, when I read The New York Trilogy, that a lot more became clear to me regarding metafiction. The New York Trilogy will be reviewed as part of my reading & reviewing series later on.)
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© Karin E. Lips
2008-2010 and beyond.