on October 10, 2002
After reading several of the reviews on City of Glass, I felt a need to give my own opinion. This is a book of perception. One person could perceive it as some sort of [messed] up mystery novel, though if they read it expecting a detective story they will be sorely dissapointed. Another could perceive it as a book about morality, but even that seems cheap and weak. I believe that this is a book about perception and identity.
The main character is Daniel Quinn, who writes under the name William Wilson, about the charcter Max Work. At the beggining of the novel he identifies more with Max that with either of the other aspects of himself. Quinn receives a phone call from Peter Stillman for Detective Paul Auster (look familiar?) and chooses to claim his identity as well.
Then he interacts with Peter Stillman , son of Peter Stillman (who coincidently(?) has the name of Quinn's dead son). This is the gentleman whose case he is supposed to be working on, under the name of Paul Auster. Damaged as a result of a freakish childhood Peter Stillman is an anomolous character. He refers to himself as Peter Nobody, Anything, and Not Here. He claims that he is learning how to be Peter Stillman. Another case of identity confusion.
Quinn is sent on a mission to track Peter Stillman, father of Peter Stillman, an old man who, regardless of the number of times he meets Quinn can never recognize him. Thus Quinn pretends to be a different person each time they encounter eachother.
City of Glass is strange and disturbing and thought provoking. I haven't even meantioned Daniel Quinn the writer, pretending to be Paul Auster the detective, meeting Paul Auster the writer, and his son Daniel. Or how Don Quixote and Cervantes and Quinn and Paul Auster are all the same person!
So if your ready for something to screw with your mind, and make you wonder about the nature of life and literature, read the City of Glass. If you want to read a mystery novel pick up something by Sue Grafton.
on March 23, 2006
City of Glass is the story of Daniel Quinn, a poet turned mystery writer, who is called one night by a person urgently seeking a detective. After several nights of "Sorry, wrong number," Quinn decides to impersonate Paul Auster, the detective the person wants to hire. Accepting the assignment leads to his ultimate ruin.
This story is primarily about Quinn's descent from depression into outright obsession and madness. Horrific abuse based on misinterpreted religion plays a big part in the book, as does the threat of murder. The perceived danger eventually disappears and the case fades away, but Quinn cannot return to his former life, and ends up completely delusional.
City of Glass is a book of unusual subtlety. Much of the tension is implicit, but is sensed through sections of extensive dialogue. The sparse artwork of the book, finally, highlights the dialogue by moving it along and filling it out, rather than distracting the reader from what is being said.
This is an exceptional work of fiction, even for readers unaccustomed to graphic novels.
on July 30, 2004
Having not read Paul Auster's original novel I can't compare it with the graphic novel, but I can certainly assume it must be an excellent book since it provided the source for this excellent work. I also can't say that I fully understand everything that goes on in this deceptively simple-looking little book; there are multiple layers, and the more times you read it the more questions it answers...and the more questions it asks.
A widower named Quinn lives in New York City with nothing to do but write detective novels. They fill the time, but they don't mean much to him. He walks around the city and likes to feel lost. He is so alone that his loneliness has actually become his companion. One night his phone rings: a wrong number. The caller wants something. He has no reason, but he goes along because it provides a direction, something he has been sorely lacking for years. He becomes involved in a case that has nothing to do with him and he lets it become an obsession. He imagines himself a detective, like the hero of his novels. He imagines that New York is his cocoon, protecting him from the real world, when actually it could be his Hell. He may be losing his mind.
Who is Quinn? Are the other characters in the novel parts of himself, or are they real? Is he looking for a reason to go insane, or is the world really this way? And what parts of Quinn belong to the novel's author, Paul Auster, who also appears in the novel? What is being said here about writing, about loneliness, about language, about growing old, about families, about faith? Questions upon questions. Some are answered in repeated readings, some are never answered. They are for you.
An absolutely mind-boggling piece of work with a thrilling story, a deeply personal perspective, and wonderfully evocative images that at once recall old Bogart films, nightmares, and great comics from the past. I wish more artists would attempt what Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli did here: not merely to translate, but to re-imagine a novel into an entirely new form. Bravo!
on February 28, 1999
The real magic here is that, in reworking Paul Auster's original novel, Karasik and Mazzucchelli have done what so many had deemed impossible: they have produced a true literary adaptation in comics form. This is no "Classics Illustrated"; this is a comic that strengthens its source material rather than diminishing it. The original book's concern with the gap between language and meaning is given further depth and resonance in the comic, which finds a visual language equivalent, and does it in a way that no other medium could have. This is no mere illustrated text, but comics as a formidable language and medium in itself. Interestingly, when the original book and the comic are read together, the comic itself almost becomes a physical character, another in the story's proliferation of literary doubles.
on October 17, 2008
In all the reviews I am surprised no one has mentioned Poe's short story "William Wilson," the very definition of doppleganger in literary prose. Here in "City of Glass' we have the same thing, even Auster uses the name William Wilson. This novel brings back true literature in a culture devoid of anything that smacks of indepth thinking on the part of the reader. Allusions, allegory, symbol, puns, linguistic twists, irony, shifting narrators...it's all here. The play on initials between Don Quixote and Danial Quinn is exquisite; the continual movement of Stillman and the paradox of his name speaks volumes about the craft of the author; the quick syntax of detective fiction when Quinn is Auster is beautifully reminiscent of Phillip Roth; the Socratic philosophical dialogue between Stillman and Auster makes me smile with joy that an author encapsulated the form so subtlely and let the audience 'get it' on their own. As a reader, the beauty of the style and form shines through without me having to be told by the author what he is doing. That is priceless in a contemporary literary world where stunted, choppy, rough prose has eclipsed mastery. I am so glad I have a copy of City of Glass; it is the best book I have read in years.
on December 18, 2002
I put the book down and had thought well of it, but not worthy of a review let alone a good one, but as I went to sleep that night, it hit me. At the point that I understood what the main character represented, which was a Campbellian march through the four phases of life, I became quite impressed with what Auster had done. I need to read it again to see all the details that I missed not understanding the parallels with life, but look for this as you read it: from his birth as Auster, to understanding language with Stillman, the identity crisis with the father, the mid-life crisis after meeting his namesake, the question of paths during this, the isolation of late life and finally the fading away. On this level, the story is absolutely stunning.
I think there are other levels that smarter people than myself have figured out and maybe with the next reading I will see some of them.
on October 17, 2008
In all the reviews I am surprised no one has mentioned Poe's short story "William Wilson," the very definition of doppleganger in literary prose. Here in "City of Glass' we have the same thing, even Auster uses the name William Wilson.
This novel brings back true literature in a culture devoid of anything that smacks of indepth thinking on the part of the reader. Allusions, allegory, symbol, puns, linguistic twists, irony, shifting narrators...it's all here. The play on initials between Don Quixote and Danial Quinn is exquisite; the continual movement of Stillman and the paradox of his name speaks volumes about the craft of the author; the quick syntax of detective fiction when Quinn is Auster is beautifully reminiscent of Phillip Roth; the Socratic philosophical dialogue between Stillman and Auster makes me smile with joy that an author encapsulated the form so subtlely and let the audience 'get it' on their own.
As a reader, the beauty of the style and form shines through without me having to be told by the author what he is doing. That is priceless in a contemporary literary world where stunted, choppy, rough prose has eclipsed mastery. I am so glad I have a copy of City of Glass; it is the best book I have read in years.
on August 21, 1998
This book is not as well written as other Auster books I've read, but it's message is powerful nonetheless. "Paul Auster" actually appears in this book as a charachter who sometimes pays attention to his higher self. Consequently "Auster" is able to write a few decent books and essays. One level down from Auster is the detective, capable of better work, who for years has only written mystery books, as an expediency. But what happens if one is distracted (by any chance of life) from achieving even that lowly level of artistic integrity? In such a case the artist invoves himself in meaningless pursuit of his own invention. Unfortunately, that's what most of us do with our lives, perhaps not to the extreme of the detective, but at least to some major extent. This book is about the many possible selves that one could potentially employ, and it is also about the self most of us ultimately tend toward enacting in our life dramas.
on December 20, 2012
I ordered City of Glass after LOVING Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp. I read Asterios shortly after its release and multiple times since then, as has everyone in my family and my girlfriend since I insisted (strongly) that everyone read Asterios Polyp. I heard about City of Glass on a blog somewhere after reading about David Mazzucchelli and though I had wanted to read it earlier, it took about half a year before I purchased this book and read it.
Everyone should read this book. Everyone.
Karasik and Mazzucchelli do an incredible job with this comic book. I have not read the original Auster novel and though I might pick it up sometime, I'm very content with where I stand having read this adaptation. The illustrations are simple and really quite perfect. There's one particular page near the beginning of the book that is quite possibly the single best page I've ever read in any comic.
The story itself is complex but easy to follow and can best be understood as a modern day Don Quixote, which itself is alluded to in this book. This adaptation is suspenseful and thankfully it's short so it's easy to finish in one or two readings. I saw a discussion of Identity as the main theme, with various metafictional ideas thrown in. The movie that most easily comes to mind is Ingmar Bergman's Persona.
If you're looking for something short, suspenseful, and well-illustrated, look no further. Purchase this now and be amazed by the wonderful work that Karasik and Mazzucchelli have done. Enjoy!
on September 23, 2014
Paul Auster's City of Glass (1987) reads like Raymond Chandler on Derrida, that is, a hard-boiled detective novel seasoned with a healthy dose of postmodernist themes, a novel about main character Daniel Quinn as he walks the streets of uptown New York City. I found the story and writing as compelling as Chandler's The Big Sleep or Hammett's The Maltese Falcon and as thought provoking as reading an essay by Foucault or Barthes. By way of example, here are three quotes from the novel coupled with key concepts from the postmodern tradition along with my brief commentary.
On the first pages of the novel, the narrator conveys mystery writer Quinn's reflections on William Wilson, his literary pseudonym and Max Work, the detective in his novels. We read, "Over the years, Work had become very close to Quinn. Whereas William Wilson remained an abstract figure for him Work had increasingly come to life. In the triad of selves that Quinn had become, Wilson served as a kind of ventriloquist, Quinn himself was the dummy, and Work was the animated voice that gave purpose to the enterprise." ---------- Michele Foucault completely rejected the idea that a person has one fixed inner self or essence serving them as their individual personal identity. Rather, he saw personal identity as defined by a process of on-going, ever changing dialogue with oneself and others. ---------- And Quinn's interior dialogue with Work and Wilson is just the beginning. As the novels progresses, Quinn takes on a number of other identities.
In his role as hired detective (quite an ironic role since Quinn is a fiction writer and has zero experience as a detective), he goes to Grand Central Station to locate a man by the name of Peter Stillman, the man he will have to tail. This is what we read after Quinn spots his man, "At that moment Quinn allowed himself a glance to Stillman's right, surveying the rest of the crowd to make doubly sure he made no mistakes. What happened then defined explanation. Directly behind Stillman, heaving into view just inches behind his right shoulder, another man stopped . . . His face was the exact twin of Stillman's." ---------- The double, the original and the copy, occupies the postmodernists on a number of levels, including a double reading of any work of literature. Much technical language is employed, but the general idea is we should read a work of fiction the first time through in the conventional, traditional way, enjoying the characters and the story. Our second reading should be more critical than the first reading we constructed; to be good postmodernists, we should `deconstruct' the text to observe and critically evaluate such things as cultural and social biases and underlying philosophic assumptions. And such a second reading should not only be applied to works of literature but to all our encounters with facets of contemporary mass-duplicated society.
"As for Quinn, it is impossible for me to say where he is now. I have followed the red notebook as closely as I could, and any inaccuracies in the story should be blamed on me." ---------- One key postmodern idea is that a book isn't so much about the world as it is about joining the conversation with other books. ---------- Turns out, the entire story here is a construction/deconstruction/reconstruction of a book: Quinn's red notebook. Life and literature living at the intersection of an ongoing conversation - Quinn's red notebook contains references to many, many other books, including the Diary of Marco Polo, Robinson Caruso, the Bible, Don Quixote and Baudelaire. And the story the narrator relates from Quinn's red notebook is City of Glass by Paul Auster.
One final observation. Although no details are given, Quinn tells us right at the outset he has lost his wife and son. Quinn's tragedy coats every page like a kind of film. No matter what form the story takes, modern or postmodern or anything else, tragedy is tragedy and if we empathize with Quinn at all, we feel his pain. Some things never change.