Book Review: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
“The story is not in the words; it’s in the struggle.” – The Unnamed Narrator of The Locked Room
Paul Auster is one of the authors whose work I really like and excited to explore. I got introduced to his prowess through his novella, Man in the Dark, and then I followed it up with his short story, Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story. The two works of his that served as my introduction cannot be more different since the former is a tragic tale and the other is a heart-warming Christmas story. However, the two works are alike in the fact that both of them employ meta-fictional techniques in their narratives. Man in the Dark uses the story-within-a-story narrative and Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story uses the writer-as-a-character. Thus, I was given a glimpse into Auster’s, some would say, unique style.
Naturally, in the course of reading Auster’s works, I would inevitably encounter The New York Trilogy, Auster’s masterpiece. It was the third thing of Auster’s that I would read and it coincided with my newly discovered interest in meta-fiction and postmodernism (brought about by my friends and the LA Times’ List of 61 Essential Postmodern Reads). I did not know what to expect with The New York Trilogy and thus it blew me away.
The New York Trilogy, as the name suggests, is divided into three seemingly unrelated parts: City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room. The first part, City of Glass, is about Daniel Quinn, a mystery writer who became a private detective after receiving a wrong-number call from a distraught client who needs protection. Ghosts is about Blue, a private detective who, at the behest of his mentor, is hired by White to keep an eye on and investigate Black. Lastly, The Locked Room is about an unnamed narrator who decides to look for his missing friend, Fanshawe.
As a whole, the trilogy explores the themes of identity. All throughout the trilogy, characters with the same names appear even in parts that are not related to each other plot-wise; some characters assume the identity of another; some lose their sense of identity all together; and there is even an instance where Paul Auster appeared as a character in the book.
Paul Auster has definitely created a mind-bending masterpiece with The New York Trilogy. It’s a somewhat slim book but the contents will definitely bug for weeks on end after finishing it. Aside from identity, it also explores the themes of reality, language, and obsession. The detectives go mad in their own investigations because they delve deeper and deeper into their subjects until the whole concept of reality comes into question. Are the protagonists still in the right frame of mind? Did they imagine the whole thing from the beginning? Multiple questions can be asked, multiple answers can be formulated, but the answers will remain elusive.
While reading the book, I even entertained the possibility that there is an overall narrator to the whole trilogy even though the three parts of the book are told from different POVs. Following this idea, one can assume that, apart from the individual narrators of each part of the trilogy, there is still another persona who is narrating (or writing) the whole thing. This idea would make a further disconnect between Paul Auster and the trilogy. Allow me to illustrate: (Paul Auster>Overall Narrator>Individual Narrators).
Overall, it is one of the best books that I have ever read in my life. Sure, it does leave more questions than answers and it does not provide a sense of closure which may frustrate some readers. After closing the book, one is left with a sense of wonder and confusion. It is the kind of book that has a life of its own after the last page.
The New York Trilogy must be taken as a whole to be fully appreciated. Sure, each story has the potential to stand on its own but, together, it becomes a monument in literature. It embodies just how far the written word can take us and the infinite possibilities that is inherent in literature. Paul Auster is a genius not only because he writes good fiction but also because he discovers places that are unknown and shares it with his readers.