on 19 June 1999
The NewYork Trilogy is that rare thing, a book that will continue to haunt you long after you put it down. Though the three stories it contains are structured and inspired by thriller novels, the work is essentially a meditation on the art of writing. It draws a parallel between a private investigator having to watch the person he has been hired to spy on and a writer attempting to create and capture a life on the page. All the central characters in the three stories hit a black wall at some point, where they feel unable to penetrate through to the subject under their observation. Auster captures this limitation of writing beautifully. This is a gripping, dark and completely original piece of work. Certainly a twentieth century classic. I shudder to think that I was nearly going to pass it over.
NY Trilogy is certainly an entertaining and perplexing work of fiction, each story a variation on the theme of identity (lost and found), rootlessness, insecurity, what makes us human and individual , and other heavy themes.
However in this bleak, urban look at the impersonality of modern society, Auster is also having fun playing games with us, demonstrating (his) the writer's ability to create fictional characters - exploring how much of the characters are invention and how much autobiographical. Even the narrator - is that the writer's voice or an imposter? We, the readers, become the detective, encountering a trail of red herrings, unreliable witnesses and dead ends to try to discover the motives of author, narrator and characters. Can we find out the truth? Is that the message?
Each is a puzzling case, inter-related by characters who turn up repeatedly (including Auster himself - described in the third person). You're never sure whether it is the same person each time or another invention by the author. Confused? That's part of the charm of the book - I'm not sure there is a tidy solution - it is certainly an unsettling experience as the narrator in each case seems to be unreliable and more than a bit unstable, but it gets your brain working and that's got to be a good thing.
I enjoyed it - i don't really know why. I can't even decide whether it's well written. Certainly it's funny at times (in a nervous twitchy way) and if you're the sort who enjoys this sort of multi-layered mind game I can whole-heartedly recommend two English alternatives - Charles Palliser's "Unburied" or James Lasdun's "The Horned Man"
on 5 June 2005
This book had been on my 'to read' list for years before I finally got round to reading it last year. I was totally blown away. Although I have friends who found it too hard going to enjoy it, in my opinion this is one of the great novels of the twentieth century and sets Auster up as the finest writer alive. I have since devoured everything he has written and have never been disappointed. When you close an Auster novel you only wish that the person sitting next to you has read it too so you can discuss - like when you watch a film like Mulholland Drive. You will think about it for days.
on 16 April 2000
I read this several months ago and am still thinking about it. It's a book for anyone who has ever wanted to write, or who loves reading novels that don't have answers. Auster doesn't lead us by the hand to the answers; he throws us in a dark room and leaves us to figure it out ourselves. As he says, it isn't the outcome of the story that counts but the telling of the story itself (ok Paul, whatever). That said, it isn't indulgent and is as accessible a book as something this experiemental can be. One to read if you want to open your mind and challenge your brain. Not an easy read but a beautiful, interesting, haunting one that gets under your skin and stays there.
The New York Trilogy is undeniably the most bizarre book i've ever read; billed as something along the lines of classic american crime writing with a post-modern twist, the three stories in the trilogy are not only gripping, they'll stay in your head for sometime after you've read them
City of GLass is typical of the three stories; it takes a regular detective with the job of trailing someobody for a client - Auster expertly conveys the obsession assosciated with such a case, and his character Quinn, soon loses all human characteristics...
While this and the locked room are both wonderful reads, the gem in the trilogy is the considerably shorter, Ghosts. Written in such a taut crisp style, this short story is often confusing, but never overwhelming.
Auster has taken the genre by its nether regions and delivered a keen and intelligent analysis of it. After reading the trilogy you can't help but feel more intelligent and content. THese are truly miraculous writings.
on 14 February 2012
The New York Trilogy isn't a trilogy in the sense that Steig Larsson's Millenium Trilogy is a trilogy or The Lord Of Rings is a trilogy, it's three extended short stories 'City Of Glass', 'Ghosts' and 'The Locked Room'. It's another example of metafiction, which I wasn't expecting, I can't remember who recommended it to me in the first instance or what they said about it. Whilst the use of metafiction is totally unintrusive in 'The Things They Carried', you knew it was there but it didn't effect the story, it is so intrusive in 'The New York Trilogy' that I think it probably counts as an example of 'breaking the fourth wall' or if it doesn't quite technically fit the criteria, it comes very close.
I hate it when authors break the fourth wall, I like to become immersed in the story, the characters, and pretend at least for the duration I read it that I am a visitor to the world about which I am reading. I don't like the authors wagging finger appearing in my face and saying 'this isn't REAL you know, it's just a STORY'. I know that already, I know the difference between fiction and non fiction.
I think one of the central discussion points of the trilogy is on the nature of authorship, and whether the story is more important than its author and the author is essentially irrelevant. In 'City Of Glass' Daniel Quinn is a formerly successful poet who following terrible tragedy now writes mystery stories, churning out one a year under the pseudonym 'William Wilson'. He receives a phonecall in the dead of night looking for a private detective named Paul Auster whom he then impersonates. Essentially all Auster has done here is use his own name as a character name but the effect is nonetheless jarring. A separate character who coincidentally also shares the name Paul Auster appears later on. I didn't like it. In the last story 'The Locked Room' the question of authorship arises again. A man publishes the work of his missing, presumed dead, friend and is asked whether he would consider writing a few more novels under his friends name, the public being none the wiser. I wondered briefly if Paul Auster wasn't a real person and that was part of the point but it seems that he is.
'The Locked Room' is actually quite a good story, but in it he re-uses several character names from 'City Of Glass' including, at one point, Paul Auster, and I just found this approach really very irritating. The characters in The Locked Room are not the ones from City Of Glass either they just have the same names. I think he's trying to make another point with this and that is that the names don't matter only the story. In Ghosts, Auster replaces every character name with a colour, which sounds like a small thing but actually makes it quite hard to read.
I wonder if a lot of reviews at the time praised Auster for playing with formats and BREAKING NEW GROUND, but I found something quite arrogant about it, a tone which suggests he thinks he's a better and more innovative writer than he actually is. The sense that he's writing for the critics, and the literary world at large. The first two stories are genuinely confusing, and I didn't really "take away" much from the book having finished it. I felt quite "so what?" about it.
In the first story Quinn meets a young woman reading one of his mystery novels, when she tells him she's finding it average without knowing he's the author, he leaves, because he is afraid he might punch her in the face. I kind of had the same feeling towards Auster throughout. A disappointment 5/10
on 25 September 2007
First and foremost this is not a trilogy in the conventional sense. It is not one story told across three episodes but rather three separate stories which follow the same loose theme. This basic similarity, along with a couple of duel appearances of minor characters leads to the three plots being labelled as 'inter-connected' - this is simply misleading. The book can be better described as a collection of short stories.
There is no doubt that Paul Auster is a talented author and the three plots have great potential. The problem arises when he sacrifices complexity and culmination of the plot in favour of a psychoanalytical exploration of his characters. What results is a largely uneventful time period with long swathes of writing about how the character is feeling and why. The endings are ambiguous and rarely answer the main questions posed in the early stages of each story. You get the sense that Auster is attempting to write a literary classic when the book is much better suited to a good old-fashioned detective story.
One of the main drawbacks is reality. There are things the characters do (or don't do) that would never happen but which are pivotal to the story. Furthermore the main characters in each story all go through a sort of breakdown, the causes for which are totally unrealistic. This implausibility left me with the impression that Auster only created the plot as a stage for his 'monologues' on theology and mentality, and as such was not overly concerned about them. Indeed his writing is far more eloquent in those parts.
There are positive aspects which is why I gave this book three stars. It is very well written and there are intriguing nuances such as including himself as a character in one story, and naming the characters as colours in another! The plot foundations are exciting even though the execution is mundane, and the fate of the characters at the end has a powerful effect on the reader.
The New York Trilogy is a unique book, and will probably be adored by people who don't need definitive endings, or who enjoy delving into issues of identity and morality. However, I was looking for a good detective story, and what I found was unrealistic, unfulfilling, and rather waffling!
on 30 May 1999
This trilogy of novels, or two novellas and a short story, as it should rightly be called, should be made essential reading for 1. Anyone travelling to New York in the near future, and 2. Anyone who would like to feel free of the realist grip that most literary fiction has been in, with some periods of upheaval, for far too long now. Auster makes the term 'post-modern' reader-friendly; after all, what is wrong with the author referring to himself as a fictitious character within his or her own work (even when he goes as far as introducing you to his home and meeting his wife)? This Auster does on various occasions in these loosely linked pseudo detective fictions, cramming in themes and obsessions such the impulse to tell stories (within stories) and to get away from modern life, Hamsun-like, to go back to the roots of nature and language. But it's not done in any way that could be called pretentious. Auster is not interested in describing human features or writing two paragraphs (or six) on how a room looks; he is more interested in making parallels and trying to fix why something is where it is. Identity is his main concern, and within the parabola of his narrow range of reference points (Paris, the native American legacy, working on ships, New York, coincidences) he twists and turns with it as dexterously as Borges. Suffice to say that the three stories involve coincidence and searches passim. The initial story, City of Glass, about a writer who becomes a detective on an infuriating mission to find a man for a woman after a misdialled telephone call, appears again in the other stories both as himself and as a reflection of other characters engaged in looking for other mysterious characters. The point of the middle story, Ghosts, only become clears when you get to the end of the last, The Locked Room, by which time you have to go back and read the whole thing again (with pleasure). In the meantime you've been taken on the kind of existential, mythical journey that dignifies detective fiction well beyond its seeming limitations. It's fascinating to read how Auster has consistently used his real-life experiences (not all that exceptional on the face iof it), to create such compulsive fiction, and you can get a lot of this from his autobiography, Hand To Mouth. It was inevitable that he would move into film-making one day, and his Lulu On The Bridge, has not disappointed (Smoke and Blue in The Face were worthy apprenticeships which he mainly scripted and had some directorial involvment in).Probably even better than NYT are Moon Palace and Leviathan.
on 13 November 2000
As the title suggests The New York Trilogy is three stories combined. The real trick is to figure out how! This is a wonderfully atmospheric read, sprinkled with fasinating anecdotes illustrating the books main themes of obsessiveness and solitude. Paul Auster's knowledge and love of New York is a central vain that runs through all the stories, making it a great book for those wanting to visit or just returned from the Big Apple. I read this a year before going to New York and then again a week after coming back and it added so much to it. A great way to get away from a room full of people. You can disappear, just like a ghost.
on 15 September 2002
The biggest let-down when reading the New York Trilogy is the way Paul Auster abandons what every time appears to be a good story in favour of a non-ending, leaving the reader with the sneaking suspicion that he just couldn't finish it.
And that's a great shame! For Auster does create a mysterious atmosphere and manages to draw the reader into the story (hence the one star). Which, of course, only adds to the feeling of disappointment at the endings.
In each of the three stories Auster lets a plot unfold, presenting what at first seem like believable characters, only to let them, inexplicably, go off their trolley about two thirds through. Suddenly they show an obstinate refusal to do the obvious thing. Take as an example the Quinn character from City of Glass, who deems it all- important to talk to his client, but can't reach her on the phone. Why doesn't he just go to her house and ring the door-bell, rather than sit for weeks outside the apartment block? Or Blue, from Ghosts, who, even when deadlocked for months, doesn't force a development in the case, or (as I would have done) just walks out.
Other authors have used this refusal to embrace the rational when faced with a problem to great effect. Not least Franz Kafka in The Castle and The Trial. But in his case there is a meaning to the madness. With the NYT there is no such meaning, and the reader is left basking around for some kind of explanation as to why these people, who are not unhinged in any way at the beginning, suddenly lose the plot. Auster doesn't make this psychological transformation credible in any way!
And that's not all. Throughout, Auster consistently withholds crucial elements of the stories in such a way, that the reader is never able to put the puzzle together. That is not to say that a novel should always have one clear message or that only one interpretation should be possible. Not at all. Most great novels mean different things to different people. But what Auster does, is to not only leave the ending totally open, which could be quite OK, but also to keep the reader from guessing or deducing why things happened the way they did. Twice he does it in the shape of a mysterious manusript, which is supposed to set the record straight, but the contents of which we, the readers, are kept unaware.
Auster's prose is masterful and the stories are atmospheric. But that, sadly, does not make up for the shortcomings which makes the book a rather unsatisfactory read.
Admittedly, I've never been a great admirer of post-modernism, and should probably have steered well clear of the NYT. Some reading this, may even say that I just don't get it. And they may be right. Still, when confronted with the near-unanimous enthusiasm the New York Trilogy seems to inspire in all others who've read it, I feel rather like the little boy pointing his finger at the end of H.C. Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes".