135 of 146 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2002
If you're looking for detective stories, look elsewhere. Auster isn't interested in the classic noirish private eye tale as anything but a way into territory vastly more compelling. Though his three novellas ostensibly revolve around men hired or driven into the pursuit of others, they end up being more about the psychology of the pursuer than the pursued. Surveillance of the self and the collapse of what we assume is our own identity is the abiding theme here, and Auster gives it three fascinating spins with simple plots which quickly spiral to literary altitudes. But don't expect simple resolutions. There are no straightforward answers here. If these were simple issues, they wouldn't justify the exploration Auster gives them. I had the pleasure of reading this immediately prior to Auster's "The Art of Hunger" (1997), a collection of essays and interviews which reveals, among other things, how "The New York Trilogy" blends aspects of his autobiography, literary theories and abiding interests into a fascinating work of fiction. Read them together. Then read everything else he's written. You won't be disappointed.
81 of 90 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 1999
Paul Auster's "New York Trilogy" consists of three seemingly unconnected novellas which though complete in themselves should be read as integral parts of a total literary experience. Unlike a conventional mystery thriller which focuses on the "who done what to whom" aspect of the storyline, Auster turns the table on the reader by taking him on a journey of self discovery past a hall of mirrors which reflect and expose by stages the psyche of the pursuer, not the pursued. The effect is so spooky you want to scream in your head as you encounter the next slice of reality about yourself. Readers familiar with the music of rock star David Bowie will find the reading experience similar to that of listening to his 1977 album "Low", a dark and creepy introspective piece of work. All three vignettes deal with questions of identity, reality and illusion, the meaning of words and language and explores the fine line between commitment and obsession. Both Quinn in "City of Glass" and the anonymous narrator in "Ghosts" are trapped in their own circumstances and forced to make human choices which lead to their mental breakdown. There is also a noir-like cinematic feel about the trilogy that just begs for this masterful piece of work to be brought to the screen. Auster has produced a highly original post-modern thriller that will mesmerise and enthrall readers for years to come. It is simply superb and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
71 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2006
"The New York Trilogy", by celebrated author Paul Auster, is made up of 3, somewhat interlinked, long stories which were originately published separately at various times around 1985-86.
There is no doubt that Paul Auster is a terrific writer so I won't even get into that aspect of the book.
Let's get down to what's really important by trying to pinpoint the subject matter, i.e., what "the new york trilogy" is really about: in a sense, it's a mystery, in the true sense of the word, because even in the end many questions (most, I dare say) are left unanswered, many stones unturned and many cues are simply left hanging in the air.
The NYT has been described as metaphysical detective fiction and the description might in fact prove apt: each of the 3 stories follows the investigations of one man which always turn into an obsession, making the man completely lose touch with the reality. The NYT is thus much about mental processes, we see each of the 3 main chracters gradually become so absorbed by their quest that they lose all sense of proportion and stop thinking like the rest of us.
It's also a novel about writing because writing, depicted as the greatest obsession of all, always plays a role in the stories.
There is also a definite surreal element in most stories and, quite often, they reminded me of Dino Buzzati's short stories.
The author is obviously very pleased with himself, playing with his own name (much like B.E. Ellis does in his recent "Lunar Park") and toying with the other character's names (which pop up in different stories, alluding to the possibility of a strong link between them all).
Did I like the book? As much as it's clever and well-written, it leaves you with a sense of un-completeness, too much stuff remains only vaguely hinted at (I was never one to fall for open-endings. Plus, everything is open here, much more than necessary) and in the ends, the whole thing sound more like an elaborate intellectual game that engaging fiction. Thus, I give the novel 3 stars although this is in no way diminishes my appreciation of the author's talent.
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 1999
Now that the academic and critic types have found Paul Auster, I guess he'll be lifted out of the general readership and stashed with the rest of the classics on some hoity-toity shelf. Once that "postmodern" labelling starts, it's goodbye accessibility, hello pretension.... Anyway: City of Glass is one of the best constructed stories I've ever read. There is an incredibly complex concentric circle of narrators: there's the author, then the narrator, then his pen name, then his detective character, then his pose as Paul Auster. Then there's the real Paul Auster he meets, not to be confused with the one who's writing the book. Kind of spooky.
Also, an English woman once showed me more disturbing information about City of Glass. If you take a city map of New York and mark out the well-described twisting journey of the characters, a picture emerges. What does it mean? With so much description of the streets they travelled, it can't be accidental. I was actually spooked.
Unfortunately, I think everything Auster's written since this trilogy has been sliding downhill in quality, and this opinion seems to be shared by friends all around.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Sometimes (and I don't think I'm alone here), I do judge a book by its cover. At least my interest was piqued when looking at the cover of Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, with its pulp mystery feel. Of course, glancing at a book cover really only gives you a superficial view of what's inside, and sure enough, the New York Trilogy - consisting of the novellas City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room - is only superficially a set of mysteries. Instead, we are given intriguing quests involving the nature of identity and the meaning of our existence; it may sound a bit dull and high-brow, but these stories are actually quite entertaining and thought provoking.
City of Glass follows Quinn, a mystery writer who receives a phone call meant for a private eye named Paul Auster. Quinn decides to take on Auster's identity and takes a case involving Peter Stillman, a man whose life is threatened by his father who is about to be released from an insane asylum. Stillman (the son) spent his childhood in complete isolation (hence his father's commitment), and now has trouble grasping who he really is. Quinn has a different sort of identity crisis; after the death of his wife and child, he has pretty much shed his own life and is running on auto-pilot; this void will be filled in unexpected ways when he impersonates Auster. What happens internally to Quinn is the main thrust of the story; the mystery plot is merely the device that drives these internal changes.
Ghosts is the tale of Blue, a private investigator hired by White to spy on Black. Blue will take this job very seriously; his surveillance will consume his life as it goes on and on through months and years; Black, however, never seems to do anything significant and White is a figure of mystery, too, willing to pay but never offering any explanations for the job. This is a tale of interlocking identities, with Blue and Black becoming intimately linked.
Finally, in The Locked Room, the narrator winds up taking over the life of Fanshawe, his childhood friend who has disappeared. He marries Fanshawe's estranged wife, adopts his child and lives off the income of Fanshawe's writing. This is all done with Fanshawe's implied (and later explicit) permission. For the narrator, however, this is a burden that will threaten to overwhelm him as he learns more and more about his old friend's life.
If there is a failing in this book, it's that - despite claims to the contrary - there is nothing distinctly "New York" about this book. Although it is implied that the city itself would be a sort of character in this trilogy, that is not really the case; I feel these tales could take place in any urban environment with the change of a few place references. This, however, is a minor quibble. Overall, this is a good book, rating a high four stars. If you're looking for a mystery, go elsewhere; if you're looking for a thought-provoking character-driven tale (with a fair share of humor), this will be a good read.
37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2002
Paul Auster's New York Trilogy is one of the finest books I've read in a long while; it's riveting. Auster is one of my favorite writers, and for those new to his writing The New York Trilogy is a good place to start.
Essentially, these three novellas are detective stories with film-noir atmosphere, but the themes Auster tackles go beyond those of your standard spy novel. There are questions of identity, power dynamics, the relationship between the writer and his characters, the relationship between a detective and his suspects.
Additionally, this is a wonderfully bookish book; references to Lewis Carroll, Cervantes, etc. abound. There are books within books within books; all the lines that separate reality from writing from fictional reality from fictional writing are blurred, turning the reader inside-out and upside-down as he or she reads.
Most importantly, these novellas are highly engaging and evocative. Though Auster's writing has been described as cold and austere, these are compelling stories; it is easy succumb to the swift, gripping narrative.
A truly lovely collection, very conceptual, breaks all the rules and wriggles its way out of any genre to which one might try to confine it.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
This work is actually a collection of three different stories called "City of Glass," "Ghosts," and "The Locked Room." However, upon finishing the work, it becomes rather obvious why they are all collected into one volume.
Let me say this from the outset: If you are a person who very much needs clear closure, this book is not for you. I don't want to get too much into the nuances of the work for fear of spoiling certain elements for a first time reader, but let's just say that this is as much an experimental exploration of theme as it is anything.
There were times when I was quite certain that Auster had absolutely no idea what he was doing and where he was going with these stories, and there were other times when I thought I must have been reading the work of a certifiable genius. I believe that was exactly Auster's purpose after having finished reading The New York Trilogy.
What else can I say? If you're a reader open to experimental craft, you will love this work; if you're a reader who needs a definite A to Z plot, I'd pass on this if I were you. Frustrated as this book sometimes made me, it was never boring, and it made me think harder than many books I've read of late. I believe I'm a better writer (and reader) for having experienced it.
~Scott William Foley, author of Souls Triumphant
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2001
Unfortunately, Paul Auster's unique work, "The New York Trilogy," is one of those books usually purchased because of word-of-mouth advertising than off-the-shelf interest. The problem with people telling you about this little collection is that you often build a preconceived notion about what to expect from the work, either good, bad, or strange. If a book ever existed that should be read without any prior knowledge of it whatsoever, The New York Trilogy is it.
The book - really a collection of three novellas, originally published separately - follows the adventures of three different men on three different pulp-novel-style investigative cases. To give away more plot does the reader a disservice; after all, while one can describe a series of exhibits on a carnival's "Freak Row," recreating the emotions involved in walking down that alley defies the conventions of language. Language, and its employ, surrounds many of the events in these books. Auster plays with the reader, offering a mystery as engaging as the ones his characters attempt to solve. He scattered the clues throughout the book, but the responsibility of creating meaning from them - and, by extension, from the book - lies solely with the reader.
If that seems unfair of Auster to expect of a reader, and too intellectual and highbrow for people interested in a casual experience, "The New York Trilogy" contains plenty more to recommend it. The mystery of meaning (provided the postmodernists and their odiously pretentious "scholar"-lapdogs haven't ruined such fun things for you) is an optional part of enjoying this work, and those looking for a great read should not be turned away. Vivid, haunting descriptions of The City (by all means, read this book in New York if you have the chance) mingle with stories that show an obvious awe and respect for film-noir and pulp detective stories. Hopelessness, sorrow, happiness, luck and chance, double-crossing, and redemption all combine to form three solid stories that tickle the mind. One gets the impression that Auster wrote this work almost as a tribute to the noir-pulp style, while attempting to offer the reader another mystery, should the reader desire such a challenge.
The seeded subcontext in the book offers quite the literary experiment, and like all experiments it doesn't always work. It usually lies in the background, suggesting its presence, but occasionally comes forward and distracts - and detracts - from the main work itself. In addition, the content matter and strange circumstances might put off those with preconceived ideas (thus, my attempt to say much while revealing little). Auster's "Trilogy" certainly merits a read, although it may not immediately appeal to all sensibilities.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 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 as 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 drawing 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 becomes clear 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 of 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.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 1999
There's a very weird moment near the beginning of The Locked Room, the last book in this short trilogy. The narrator takes the manuscript of a missing friend's fiction to a literary editor he knows and calls back a few days later to see what the editor thinks. The editor says that while the book is perfectly okay (typical bet-hedging), there's something mysterious about it that he can't put his finger on, that he can't get the book out of his mind, and so on. Which is exactly what the perplexed reader has been telling him or herself for the previous 200 pages. They tell me that these books use the model of detective fiction - apart from the middle book, you could have fooled me. The diction is like no thriller ever written; Auster's style is utterly clean, clear and neutral, almost as if English isn't his first language, yet when you gaze into the pool of his style it shows you nothing but the reflection of your own face. This book is so clever that it should be boring and sterile, but it's not; it's filled with panic, dread and the terror of loneliness. (Beautifully pointed up when, in the first book, the hero Quinn meets Paul Auster and his beautiful wife and son; Auster has said that he wrote City of Glass as a sort of inverted autobiography of what his life would have been like if he hadn't met his current wife.) Auster's more recent work occasionally lapses into an irritatingly faux-naif style (he's one of the only serious writers I can think of who'll use a sentence like "Nothing would ever be the same again" without irony) but he's still got the same storytelling magic he first exercised in the New York Trilogy. A friend of mine calls him Paul Austere. I quite like the sound of that.