City of Glass (The New York Trilogy, #1)

ISBN: 0140097317
ISBN 13: 9780140097313
By: Paul Auster

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About this book

Nominated for an Edgar award for best mystery of the year, City of Glass inaugurates an intriguing New York Trilogy of novels that The Washington Post Book World has classified as "post-existentialist private eye... It's as if Kafka has gotten hooked on the gumshoe game and penned his own ever-spiraling version." As a result of a strange phone call in the middle of the night, Quinn, a writer of detective stories, becomes enmeshed in a case more puzzling than any he might have written. Written with hallucinatory clarity, City of Glass combines dark humor with Hitchcock-like suspense. Ghosts and The Locked Room are the next two brilliant installments in Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy.

Reader's Thoughts


I'd read the graphic novel version many years ago and liked it very much, and I finally got around to reading the source material. A head-scratcher at times, but I found myself drawn into this strange world as Daniel Quinn found himself drawn into the mystery of the Stillmans. Comparisons to Haruki Murakami's work kept popping into my head--there is a quiet brooding quality undercut by a current of the supernatural. Must be the thing about a phone call in the middle of the night from a stranger.

Hamid Hasanzadeh

نیویورک فضایی بی انتها بود، هزار تویی از مکان های بی انتها؛ و مهم نبود چقدر راه می رفت و چقدر محله ها و خیابان های شهر را می شناخت، همیشه احساس می کرد گم شده است.نه فقط در شهر بلکه در خود هم گم شده بود.هر بار که قدم می زد، احساس می کرد گویی خود را جا می گذارد و با تسلیم شدن به چرخش خیابان ها، با تقلیل خویش به چشمی نظاره گر قادر می شود از اجبار فکر کردن بگریزد و این بیش از هر چیز لحظه ای آرامش و خلا درونی و خوشایند برایش به همراه داشت.دنیا بیرون از وجودش، در اطراف و روبرویش بود و با چنان سرعتی تغییر می کرد که امکان نداشت به چیزی بیش از لمحه ای فکر کند. تحرک اصل بود، گذاشتن قدمی از پس قدم دیگر و آزاد گذاشتن خویش تا حرکت تن خود را دنبال کند. از بی هدف گشتن، همه ی مکان ها مثل هم شدند و دیگر مهم نبود که کجاست. در بهترین حالت می توانست که حس کند که هیچ جا نیست، و بالاخره این همان چیزی بود که می خواست : این که هیچ جا نباشد.نیویورک ناکجایی بود که در اطرافش ساخته و دریافته بود که اصلا قصد ندارد آن را ترک کند.قبلا جاه طلبتر بود. جوان تر که بود چندین کتاب شعر چاپ کرده، چندین نمایشنامه و نقد ادبی نوشته و روی چند ترجمه ی طولانی نیز کار کرده بود. اما خیلی ناگهانی همه را ول کرد. به دوستانش می گفت قسمتی از او مرده و نمی خواهد که بازگردد و عذابش دهد.شهر شیشه ای / پل استر

Sarah Horn

I was told this was the "post-existentialist private eye" novel with some Kafka influences. In other words, my jam. And I must say, FANTASTIC. I really am looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.Detective Quinn gets a weird phone call asking for Paul Auster (author's name...not weird to anyone else? Um ok) and finds himself in the most difficult case yet. As Quinn struggles with the frustrations of figuring out this case, and perhaps descends into insanity, the reader is taken on a joy ride of dark humor. Also wondering what in God's graces this man is doing with his life. I think Sassy Gay Friend popped up a few times in my mind's eye to say to Quinn "LOOK AT YOUR LIFE. LOOK AT YOUR CHOICES." But this is absurd, postmodern, nihilistic world. So my words ultimately meant nothing. They really cannot express anything. That's a problem.Also, what struck me most about this novel though. Auster takes the theme of the struggles of language and communication and goes a little wild in a very cool way. I am warning you now: This book will NOT be what you expect. So please don't cry to me, or anyone else because really it's just a book and that'd be weird, that BOO HOO you said it was detective novel, you said it was suspense. BOO FREAKING HOO to you, I don't care. You read it and try to explain it. Go on.


I find that I don't know what on earth to say about City of Glass. Perhaps that will resolve itself as I read the rest of this trilogy. I was intrigued by it, at times confused; I found it easy to read, but very quiet, muted. It doesn't spark off the page and leap about, at all. It sounds as if it's going to be very strange and dramatic, and yet it quietly slims down -- in the way the main character does -- to something else entirely. And what that thing is, I haven't figured out.Like I said, perhaps I'll understand this better when I read the rest. Or perhaps the mystery will deepen.


Surreal at timesMeta fiction


A very intriguing exploration of the power of language to make (and unmake) the borders of our existence and the reality we experience. The main character, Quinn, is a writer of detective stories. One day, he decides to take on a serious detective job. His decision to do so, prompted by a mere phone call, seemingly represents the enthralling power of suggestion. Quinn's willing engagement with the caller, and the events that unfold from there, convey a heavily slanted view of language-experience praxis. Quinn becomes helplessly swept up in the lives of his interlocutors. He is held in thrall to the extent that he becomes a blank vehicle for their tragedies and mysterious lives. Why is this so? Auster has chosen a detective writer as a main character, whose sole means of support - as far as the reader can determine - comes from royalties from the sale of mystery books. Quinn begins the story with a knowledge of the chase, but no experience as a real detective. His real-life case, far from being an extreme case of text-to-self transference, seems to illustrate a larger truth about a dark power inherent in language, wherein word-reality has a supernatural ability to leap over cognitive barriers to create and destroy human experience.If you're still reading this review, you may wonder if the story is really just about a guy who has a pretty straightforward psychotic break. This is entirely possible but the rest of the story makes it seem unlikely.Context clues indicate that the story really is an allegory, representing the fragility of the human condition as portrayed in the downfall and disappearance of the book's characters. Language, in this case, is the agent of the Fall. Auster explicitly refers to the biblical Tower of Babel, mirroring the anomic results of that story with Quinn's own descent into confusion.The characters grope with the unknown limits of their lives, including their identity, their survival, and the peace of mind they all struggle to obtain. How does this play out in the story? The lightning rod of language is given a central agent, an insane professor (now a harmless codger) whose release from prison triggers Quinn's descent. He is summoned to protect the professor's victimized son, at which time he begins to unravel a sordid tale that eventually proves to be a gigantic McGuffin. Behold the facts: that the professor, in his heyday, attempted to abolish language and raise his son in isolation from it. This child abuse, and the linguistic hubris from which it was born, creates a legacy of suffering which ultimately destroys all it touches. Consider also that each character affected by the professor seems afflicted by a curse: they wind up broke, insane, dead, or missing. Even the main character is powerless to stop his own descent into indigence as he continues his quixotic pursuit of the word-abolisher. Yet what does the Professor actually do? He roams Manhattan, collecting junk, muttering nonsense. Meanwhile, the professor's son and his wife disappear, leaving a trail of bounced checks. But Quinn is unaware or unwilling to explore these new developments. Instead he lays in wait, hoping to catch the professor before he can do any harm. Again, unbeknownst to him, the professor commits suicide, leaving the "detective" in the absurd position of waiting for a dead man, sleeping in a dumpster and losing everything.Finally, Quinn gives up. He returns to his apartment, his quarry lost, his paychecks bounced, and finds that a new tenant has taken his place. In search of some redemption - anything at all - he returns to the professor's son's empty apartment. His job is now meaningless, his role irrelevant. The professor and his son left him to his own vacuity, their hysterics all but sick jokes at Quinn's expense.Now, the doors to the empty place are unlocked, seemingly in silent assent to Quinn's condition and fate. He removes his clothes and begins scribbling inane phrases in his notebook. Food appears before him as he writes, but soon he disappears. Later, we are led to understand, his notebooks serve to inform the narrator of the above events.Now Auster's vision becomes clear. We may see a significant pattern in the impotence of the characters to prevent their demise, articulated here through an assent to participate in language games. In this absurd menage-a-trois, Auster seems to point to an innate human desire - an instinct - to interpret reality on a level of verbal/linguistic constructions, regardless of the larger implications of this praxis. Each character accepts their tragedy without question, first acceding the roles of "detective," "madman," and "victim," then "bum," "corpse," and "missing person." As this fatal flaw unravels the protagonist's author-life, the reader recalls the mysterious deaths described by Auster at the beginning of the story. In a prior life, Quinn had a family, which also disappeared. Between the end of this life and the beginning of "City," the main character developed a hunger: for companionship, for another life, for a new role to play. Yet his hunger impelled him toward another end altogether, an inner death in the form of an overreaching projection of words on reality, the absurd "City of Glass." In becoming his own detective character, Quinn paid his final homage to the power of words, a mistake for which he paid with his home, his identity, and his mind. Babel, indeed.

Seth Hahne

City of Glass was not what I expected. Which is not a bad thing.I expected a well-crafted, pulpy detective fiction, perhaps borrowing liberally from Hammett, Chandler, and maybe Leonard. And it was to be fraught with New York-ish details and ambiance. I expected it to more or less follow the expectable twists, turns, and general direction of the genre I believed it to take part in.What I got was something different. Not entirely so, of course. But different enough for me to not quite realize what I had in hand until it was all quite finished.The surprising ride Paul Auster delivered covers a range of literary and critical topics. He is never didactic in his treatments, always leaving things unspelled, with prepositions, thoughts, and motivations all dangling with great liberty. And in some cases, he is subtle enough that one doesn't even recognize what has been done until later, under reflection.There were times when I thought I was going to love City of Glass (especially in the introduction of his quadpartite character and in his exploration of the most famous ziggurat of all history). There were times when my love was diminished (especially in his conversation with his Peter the Younger). And then there was the rest of the time, when I was less concerned with what was going on narratively and more concerned with what Auster was trying to do on a literary level.Generally, I'd say being taken out of the story in order to consider the work of the story a flaw. In Auster's case here, I think it works well with what he's doing and arises naturally out of the questions he asks of his reader through the narrative chase. At the end of his experiment, I feel a mixture: I am both whelmed and overwhelmed. And perhaps in some smallish ways, even underwhelmed. I'm not entirely certain that Auster succeeds wholly in his goal, but that just may be because I'm expecting greatness and am only convinced I have been delivered goodness.But hey, goodness ain't half bad. It's probably not even a fifth.________________________[huh. my memory must be going. I had been chastising myself for not yet reviewing City of Glass so I finally wrote a review and came here to load it up and found I had already reviewed the book. so I am now appending my second review. maybe it will reveal something interesting about the book, but more likely it will reveal more about me.]________________________I've been putting off reviewing City of Glass for a few weeks now. I wanted time to digest it and see if I could do a better job piecing it all together, but honestly, I just haven't taken the time. I've read two novels and a pile of graphic novels since then, so first impression is going to have to do for this one.The short answer: I liked it.The longer answer: I liked it, but have some reservations, but also think there's more to it than my reservations necessarily allow. Auster eschews the conventions of the genre and offers something up that is quite different from what one might expect from detective fiction. Or at least what I expected. I suppose that in a way built of abstraction and faery tales, Auster's novel here bears some comparison to Eco's The Name of the Rose, subjecting genre to literary and (in Auster's case) metafictional concerns.From the start, Auster's protagonist takes the reader into unexpected (though entirely welcome) narrative territory as he introduces his four overlapping identities. Then the case appears and is mostly interesting due its colossal improbability. Then a tangential (though entirely relevant) excursion into historical theology, blending the established mythos with Austerian. For my money, the chapters dealing with the earthly paradise and the ziggurat of tongues (also big features in Eco's work) are the most luscious and exciting chapters of the book—and certainly the most surprising to be found in a work of the detective genre.At the end of the day, I don't know what to make of City of Glass. I certainly enjoyed it. I thought it had some awesome stuff going on in it. I found the finale intriguing and unexpected. I also couldn't quite grasp how the parts fit with the whole. With more time to consider and the possibility of subsequent readings, I'm sure much of the dissonance would be ironed out like the wrinkles in one's brain. But for now, I'm left both satisfied that I read something worthwhile and unsatisfied that it wasn't worth more to me as a reader.


Paul Auster, a guy who ushers you into the silky interior of his brand new Nissan Infiniti, makes sure you've got your seatbelt on, proffers bonbons, then drives you to distraction.This book is in contravention of TWO of PB's commandments:- Thou shalt not have a character in thy book with thy own name- Thou shalt not portray the writing of a novel within thy novel such that the novel within the novel turns out to be the novel the reader is reading

Laura Olmus

It´s all about disappearing... going away somewhere, someday, to come back again more alive than ever.Those are secrets only we understand about ourselves. They are the prana for our soul. Risking the obvious to follow invisible possibilities is what this book is about. The crazy streets of New York City, with it´s fascinating characters come alive in this writer´s mental film, where the names change, but the fear of living a boredom life remains.


This is an amazing book. I have read a LOT of (valid) opinions about this text that put it as "pretentious", or "only for PhD Philosophy Students" (that it seems to be a synonym of pretentious). The only thing I can say is: Pretentious people is exactly THAT one who don´t give any chance to a complex book. Paul Auster is not making a stupidity test, he is writing a story about the relationship between humans and language, about human nature, about the most epic adventures in literature, he is inviting us to get into the rabbit´s hole. The only thing you have to do is to open your mind! You´ll find a lot of amazing coincidences, links and references, no only about literature, but life.That cannot be so bad, right? Please, if you didn´t enjoy this book, give it a chance once more. I can assure you that maybe it wasn´t the right moment to read it. If you haven´t read this book yet, try reading a few pages and, if you think that it´s OK, then go on. But if you start to feel that it is quite a messy, please just drop it and try again later.The Comic is AWESOME! Yes, just like that. But read the novel first!Have Fun!


I told the guy in the bookstore (whose name is also Daniel) that I wanted a book that would open my brain up. He didn't think too long before he pointed me towards this short weird book.Imagine that David Lynch and Haruki Murakami got punchy one night and decided to write a noir detective novel together. And Samuel Beckett stopped by to contribute a chapter or two? I recognize this sounds crazy, but it's hard to imagine that this book was written by a single person. There are so many thoughts crammed into every page, and they're typically surprising and convoluted and odd.Let's start at the very beginning. Quinn writes pulpy detective novels under the pseudonym William Wilson. But really, he feels some significant connection to the protagonist of those novels, Max Work. And then one night, with nothing in particular going on, somebody calls him asking for Paul Auster, who is apparently a private detective. The caller desperately needs the help of Auster in order to prevent a murder. And Quinn at first is all like "I'm not Paul Auster", but then a little later he's all like "yeah, sure, I'm Paul Auster" and he jumps head first into doing some detective stuff.Then the book kind of gets odd.I feel pretty good about feeling confused, which means I tend to enjoy weird books and movies. And I will tell you right now that this book is confusing. Not in the same way that a Tolstoy novel is confusing, with everybody having like 3 names, or the way the first chapter of "Infinite Jest" is just totally opaque. The plot is crystal clear and it's very easy to tell what's happening, the above paragraph notwithstanding. "City of Glass" is confusing because Auster gives you so many things to think about on basically every page. He had a lot of ideas in his brain and wanted to share all of them with you. Sometimes this made the book feel disjointed, but most of the time it just felt rich.You should read this book if you like weirdo detective stories. And you should probably avoid this book if you really need to be able to decide on the significance of every literary curve ball Auster throws. It's a pretty short book, but it will support a lot of pondering. Just don't expect a lot of resolution.


This book has so many layers it's insane. I could spend a week thinking about it and continuously see new ideas and connections. SO GOOD.

F.X. Altomare

I had mixed feelings going into this novel given Auster's ambiguous relationship with critics; but he pulls a rabbit out of a hat here, weaving a metaphysical "detective" novel that might be considered a primer for postmodernism. All the elements are here: the author appearing as a character, questions about what is real, works-within-the-work, etc. Auster asks the big questions and gives us a relentless work that never quite answers any of them. Auster writes a tough lean prose that reminds one of Hemingway but it keeps the pace moving furiously: stylistically he's managed to make a philosophical piece that you can read in one night. After putting the book down, I couldn't help but call it brilliant. Shades of Beckett throughout, a little Kafka, certainly some Hemingway and Melville, a little Poe, a lot of Cervantes. A great primer for anyone interested in the postmodernist novel; for the experienced, the only downside is that you feel at times that you're reading a book you've already read--The Unnamable meets Don Quixote meets A Farewell to Arms. Otherwise, a real gem, highly recommended.


The City of Glass is my favorite Auster novel. Daniel Quinn is a writer juggling his past, his present, and his characters on multiple planes of reality. It's deeply human, deeply moving, and very existential. The kind of book I would have dismissed as drivel ten years ago, but appreciate much more with life experience.It also contains my favorite quote about mystery novels:"In the good mystery there is nothing wasted, no sentence, no word that is not significant. And even if it is not significant, it has the potential to be so--which amounts to the same thing. The world of the book comes to life, seething with possibilities...everything becomes essence; the center of the book shifts with each event that propels it forward. The center, then, is everywhere, and no circumference can be drawn until the book has come to its end."I appreciate Auster's willingness to write outside of the box, and I always feel challenged while reading his work.


Just goes to show how good of a writer Paul Auster is. Writers like him and Cormac McCarthy get away with writing stories that I can't imagine writing, let alone understanding how to keep the momentum. The protagonist, Daniel Quinn (mistaken for Paul Auster), even in his most unbelievable moments, stays believable. The metafictional aspect of this book combined with the mystery novel nature was an intriguing cerebral mind fuck that kept me reading frantically. Not a book for plot cravers (not at least in the traditional plot...big action kind of way).

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