This is my review of The New York Trilogy: “City of Glass”, “Ghosts” and “Locked Room” by Paul Auster.
“City of Glass”, the first part of “The New York Trilogy”, sets up an intriguing situation. The friendless and bereaved Quinn who, writing under a pseudonym, somehow manages to earn a living as the author of detective novels, allows himself to be caught up in a real life case. The bizarre young man, Peter Stillman, mistaking him for the private eye Paul Auster (yes, the author includes himself in the tale), hires Quinn to intercept his father on his imminent release from jail. Stillman Senior has served a long sentence for incarcerating his own son in a room to observe how he develops language. The man is clearly a crazy academic – or have Stillman Junior and his beautiful wife made up the whole story?
It soon becomes clear that Auster has no serious interest in developing the plot, or realistic relationships between the characters. His main concern is to use the book as a vehicle for philosophising on the nature of language, or the meaning of identity and reality, plus to show off his own literary knowledge and theories about such famous works as “Don Quixote”.
At first I did not mind this as I was so impressed by Auster’s own mastery of language. He held me with a chain of insights – the reasons why grief-stricken people gain solace from endlessly pacing the streets of a sprawling metropolis like New York, a shocked understanding of how the obsession with understanding the development of language could blind one to the cruelty of isolating a young child, empathy with Quinn’s jealousy over the sight of Auster at home with his beautiful wife Siri and innocent young son Daniel – a situation made ironical with the knowledge of hindsight as to what happened in reality.
In Chapter 12 Auster, decides to have Quinn begin to “lose his grip” and I rapidly lost interest over the implausible and apparently directionless series of events. Skimming on through the next two parts, with the introduction of new characters and little action, I could not detect any clear thread holding the whole thing together – it all seemed like erudite Brownian motion. So I decided not to invest any more time on it.
I must admit that the bestseller I turned to instead seemed rather trite. Reading Auster has made me question my rejection of a well-written book for its lack of plot and character development, when I am unlikely to do the opposite. However, for a writer of Auster’s talent, I expect all three: style, story and relationships with the power to move me, as he has achieved more recently in “Sunset Park”.