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The New York Trilogy - Paul Auster

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Author: Paul Auster / Genre: Fiction

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

    4 Reviews
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      26.01.2007 14:08
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      Weird and wonderful, but brilliant too

      I came across this book on the recommendation of a friend who knows I like crime fiction, yet from very early on, I was aware that this was something very different about this book. What initially seems to be a straightforward detective story soon becomes a confusing read, so that identities begin to merge together and then separate again. Despite this, Auster writes in such a way that his make compelling reading and at no point did I feel like throwing the book away in disgust. I think it is necessary to understand a little of Paul Auster’s background and beliefs in order to grasp the concept behind this book. Auster is well-known for his postmodernist tendencies. For those of you who don’t know what postmodernism means (I had to look it up on wikipedia.org), it refers to trends, usually in art or literature, that rebel against the ‘modernist’ period, which usually refers to trends at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. Sometimes postmodernism involves bringing back artistic fashions from the classical period, other times, it involves taking modernist styles to extreme. In this book, he has certainly done the latter, taking what could have been a conventional detective story and twisting it to question what we believe is the case. As the title suggests, the book is made up of three stories. The first, City of Glass, involves a writer, Daniel Quinn, whose wife and child are dead. He receives a series of phone calls from a man asking for the detective, Paul Auster, and although he ignores them at first, he soon becomes intrigued, pretends to be Paul Auster and goes to meet the man looking for him, called Stillman. Stillman was abused by his father as a child and is convinced that his father, about to be released from prison, is going to kill him. He wants Quinn, in his detective guise, to follow his father and ensure that he stays away. The second story, Ghosts, is about a man named Blue who is asked by Mr White to spy on Mr Black, a writer. Mr Blue moves into an apartment across from Mr Black and becomes obsessed with his job, to the extent that he loses contact with his fiancée and virtually all other human contact. Thirdly, The Locked Room, is the story of another writer, whose childhood best friend’s wife contacts him to say that her husband, called Fanshawe, has gone missing, presumed dead. Before going missing, he told his wife, Sophie, to contact the narrator if anything happened to Fanshawe, give him the manuscripts to the many books and poems he has written and then either burn them or publish them depending on the quality of the work. The narrator reads Fanshawe’s work, realises that it is the work of a genius and falls in love with Sophie. The two of them live of the proceeds of Fanshawe’s work, but whereas Sophie and everyone else believe that Fanshawe is dead, the narrator knows that he is not. Although all of the stories, at first glance, seem to be quite different, they do have quite a lot in common. For a start, they all involve the protagonist searching for someone, ostensibly a flesh and blood person, but this is later called into question and we wonder if the protagonist is either mad or confused. Sometimes the characters overlap and we suspect they may be the same person rather than two individuals. At other times, it is unclear whether one or more of the characters actually exist at all. Sometimes, the names of characters appear in more than one story, although we are not sure if they are the same person, and even the author, Paul Auster, is a character in one of them. All of the stories involve writing; either noting down the comings and goings of the target, or, as in the latter story, trying to get something down on paper that just won’t materialise. Yet on reading back what has been written, nothing seems to make sense. If you like a nice, neat ending, stay away from this book. None of them really end and the reader is left to his/her imagination to decide what finally happened to the protagonists – did they go mad, did they start a new life or did they eventually manage to get a grip on reality? I am not always fond of this type of book. I am a very down to earth, practical person and I can’t be doing with pretentiousness or airy fairy stories that mean what you want them to mean. In this case though, I have to make an exception. I found this book extremely readable and very intriguing. Apart from the obvious confusion over identities and what actually exists and what doesn’t, it is hard to say what this book is really all about. However, it is somehow not important; this is a compelling book in its own right and it manages to be so without being in the slightest bit pretentious. In many ways, it is just like a dream; one in which there are events that can’t be, yet somehow they all make sense at the time. It is only when you think about them afterwards that you begin to ask questions. This is a book that I highly recommend to anyone who likes to read something that makes them think. It is not difficult to understand – the language used is very simple – but the stories have remained with me for several days after finishing it. If you like detective fiction, this is initially very similar to the ‘hard-boiled’ noir novels by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler before it starts to go off in other directions, so fans of this genre might enjoy this book. I would recommend giving it a try whatever type of book you like though – you never know, you may just enjoy it. The book is available from play.com for £5.99. Published by Faber and Faber, it has 320 pages. ISBN: 9780571152230

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        24.07.2003 02:11
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        It was one of those books you pick almost at random: recommended by Waterstones, feeling adventurous. I expected a more-or-less conventional detective story - but as Deany writes in his superb review, that's not exactly what you get. All set to write a review, I logged onto DooYoo... and then found Deany's op. So rather than try to repeat Deany's content, here my take on it, in acrostic version instead... Q uestion: U npick a man, I solate him from his world: is he N ullified, a N amed nonentity? I s Black White? S eek the man, A uster hints, U nder the trappings. S earch. T hink. E njoy. R eflect.

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          10.08.2001 16:37
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          Paul Auster's 'New York Trilogy' contains three detective stories with a very postmodern twist. Taking elements from traditional detective fiction, Auster turns the genre on its head by leaving both reader and detective confused. As the title clearly indicates, the three stories are set in New York and we are fed bizarre and increasingly perplexing clues as each grows more mysterious. The first of the three stories sticks most in my mind, following a bizarre trail that seems to be leading to the tower of Babel! With doppelgangers and a character called Paul Auster I was gripped read it in one sitting! The characters and situations are verging on the ridiculous, but the more familiar elements of the genre keep it based in reality; We want to know 'whodunnit' and what all the clues are leading to. I've yet to find someone who hasn't enjoyed this book, it is not an altogether easy read but is definitely worth the effort!

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            11.07.2001 16:16
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            The “New York Trilogy“ is an excellent introduction to the work of Paul Auster. As the name suggests, the book is a collection of three short stories set in New York, each of which has some form of detective work as the central element. However, anybody expecting a trio of tales along the lines of Agatha Christie is in for a large shock. The first story in the book – “City of Glass” – introduces many of the themes that run through all of Auster’s work. A man, Quinn, is awoken one night by a phone call from someone who believes he is a detective named Paul Auster of the Auster Detective Agency. However, as with many of Auster’s central characters Quinn is not a detective, but an author. He initially shrugs off the call as a wrong number, but when the caller rings back the following night Quinn’s interest begins to grow and he finds himself caught up in a baffling case which sees him spending week after week covertly observing the movements of one man. The way that Auster plays with the names of his characters so that they echo and, at times, even are his own name is one of the elements that lead the reader to realise that these are not standard detective stories. By making the central character of this first story an author who is first mistaken for and then later pretends to be a detective called Paul Auster, Auster is letting the reader know that he is writing a highly personal story about what it means to be a writer. At one point Quinn even tracks down the fictional Paul Auster (who is also a writer and not a detective) and they strike up a conversation about writing. This emphasis on writing and language is enforced as the case develops. Quinn spends a large portion of his time in the library researching the Tower of Babel and his meeting with Paul Auster is spent discussing Don Quixote. This in turn provides another signal to the reader, that of the self-deluded Quixote fighting a gainst the invisible monsters that are nothing more than windmills in reality. As the story progresses the boundaries between reality and delusion begin to blur and by the end of the tale Quinn becomes a form of modern Quixote. When I finished this first tale I was left with a mixture of admiration, bewilderment and a feeling of being cheated. The story is so well written that it is impossible not to admire what Auster has written, but at the same time it confounded my expectations to such an extent that I felt as if I had somehow been tricked. The detective case builds up to a level where there seems to be a solution on the horizon and then it is almost abandoned as the tale goes off on a tangent. There is no “the butler did it” style ending; the reader is left unsure as to what exactly has happened. Quinn fades out of the story and the unseen narrator is left to provide his own explanation of events. After learning my lesson from the first story in the book, I approached the second – “Ghosts” – in a different frame of mind. Again, this begins as a standard detective story and then proceeds to break from the norm. The blurb on the back of my edition provides as good a description of the plot as any I can think of, so I will let it speak for itself – “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”. This story continues one of the central themes of the first, namely the covert observation of a man. However, this idea is developed further here. Blue is hired to observe and nothing more. There is no case to solve as such. The bulk of the story is taken up by Blue’s day to day observations and, although to a certain extent repetitive, Auster manages to keep the reader’s interest through the many innovations that he brings to the genre. Again, writing is a central theme, as well as the theme of identity. It is significant that the characters are not named. Through his obsessive journal entries of Black’s every movement Blue is attempting to grow to understand him. He is using writing as a means of uncovering an identity. Every main character in all three of the stories in the trilogy keeps a notebook or is engaged in a writing activity in order to understand someone better. As the reader makes his way through the book he begins to realise that the detective stories are not necessarily to do with the search for a criminal, but the search of the characters for their own true self. And by bringing so much of his own life into the stories Auster shows that he is using them as a way to explore his own identity as well. The final story – “The Locked Room” – is once again based around a writer turned detective. In this case the central character begins to investigate the disappearance of a good friend, Fanshawe, and is slowly drawn into his life as he begins to document it. As the story develops the narrator moves in with Fanshawe’s wife, marries her and looks after his child – at the same time as he discovers that Fanshawe is not dead, but very much alive. He also discovers that his actions have been exactly what Fanshawe wanted to happen and eventually a meeting between the two is orchestrated. This story brings together the threads running throughout the whole trilogy. References to the first two stories and characters in them are made, showing that this is not a collection of hermetically sealed writings but rather a work to be read as a whole. This is the only story in the book to be written in the first person and as such the search for identity appears even more profound here. The detective work to track down and understand who Fanshawe was and what his motives were (it goes without saying that Fanshawe is also a write r) once again show Auster’s own search for identity. This theme is also explored in greater detail in the novel “Leviathan” which shows the narrator’s attempt to chronicle the life of a friend (also an author) who has recently been killed when a bomb he was making exploded. All in all, the “New York Trilogy” is an excellent read. Those readers expecting a collection of “traditional” detective stories may find themselves disappointed, but for those with a more open approach to literature the collection of stories is ultimately rewarding and most definitely thought-provoking. The stories themselves are quite short and the language they are written in makes them a pleasure to read. Although some of the literary references (Cervantes, Milton, Poe etc.) may not be known to the general reader the stories can be understood without them and Auster takes time to explain the points he is making through discussions within the narrative. The “New York Trilogy” provides a great starting point for those wanting to get to know the works of one of the most inventive and interesting authors writing at the moment.

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