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

Bill Johnson

What makes a storyteller an artist? My answer is that an artist is concerned not just with a story's movement and how it transports and affects an audience -- creating an action story that thrills, for example -- but with why an audience desires particular story experiences. The artistic storyteller uses a story to create an experience that illuminates some aspect of the artist's world.A question I'm asked is, are the principles that an artist uses to create a story the same as those that apply to more simple, popular stories?My answer is yes.The purpose of this essay will be to break down, sentence by sentence, the opening page of a novella, City of Glass, written by an artist, Paul Auster. Following that review I'll explore how the opening page of the novella sets up the story's issues in a way that Auster resolves in an artistic, thoughtful manner. By showing how an artist like Paul Auster constructed a particular story, the principles of storytelling I've outlined can be seen to apply to the artist as well as the spinner of a few tall tales.The BeginningCity of Glass opens with the first sentence..."It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not."This sentence raises a number of questions. Who is the narrator who knew it was a wrong number? What did this phone call "start?" Who is this someone "who was not".This first sentence is constructed to entice readers into the world of this story. Note that while the sentence raises a number of questions, it does not take the form of a question, but a reader must keep reading to get answers to the questions raised.This sentence meets a prime directive for a story's first sentence: the audience is strongly drawn forward to read the second sentence.Second sentence..."Much later, when he was able to think about the things that happened to him, he would conclude that nothing was real except chance."An element of this story will revolve around chance and the nature of reality. The promise of the story is not withheld to create a revelation. Instead, it offers a context for the details that follow. When the details of a story lack context, a reader must memorize details, which becomes a tedious process.Third sentence..."But that was much later."First the audience is deftly, quickly eased into the story, then the third sentence tells us that the narrator has gone on a journey, and the phone call in the middle of the night was its beginning. This sentence foretells that there will be more information later about the nature of the phone call, this idea of chance, and the nature of reality, and the audience must keep reading to find out what these revelations will be.Fourth sentence..."In the beginning, there was simply the event and its consequences."Even though the writer slips in the phrase "In the beginning..." we're already deeply into the real beginning of the story. A nice touch. The "there was simply the event and its consequences" speaks, on one level, about plot in a story, this happened, so that happened. This sentence offers a kind of Newtonian world view -- event/consequence - - that the author will re-examine through the telling of this story and what it says about chance and the nature of reality.Fifth sentence...“Whether it might have turned out differently, or whether it was all predetermined with the first word that came from the stranger’s mouth, is not the question.”The artist here is further defining the terrain this story will explore. He is telling the audience this story and its outcome will not turn on a simple examination of events in a Newtonian world that operates via cause and effect. Because this artist intends to take his audience on a penetrating journey of an understanding of chance and reality, he clearly orients his audience to that purpose.Sixth sentence...“The question is the story itself, and whether it means something is not for the story to tell.”Life -- and a story -- as a quality of movement, and a perception about the nature of that movement must be made by the observer of the story’s world. The audience to this story is reminded that it is a participant in the story and its meaning. While the artist creates the story’s dramatic movement to illuminate a particular perception of the world, that perception is dependent on how it is perceived by the audience as well as the author’s intentions.Note, on a level of story construction, how the audience comes away wanting to know more about the story’s narrator and the story’s issues. This first paragraph has done its job. It is beautifully written. Each sentence has a clear, direct dramatic purpose that communicates that this is a story about the nature of chance and reality.2nd paragraphFirst sentence...“As for Quinn, there is little that need detail us.”Beautiful introduction to a character, giving us a name and telling us there’s no real reason to pay attention. Which guarantees, of course, that the reader pays even MORE attention.Note how the narrator of the story casually slips into a confidence with the story’s audience, “ little that need detail US.”The audience as a participant with the author in observing the events of the story.Second sentence“Who he was, where he came from, and what he did are of no great importance.”The artist wonderfully plays off the normal perception of how to introduce a character, which means setting out who a character is in a way the audience is led to care about the character’s goals and issues within the framework of the dramatic purpose of the story. Auster, the artist, confounds that expectation in a pleasurable way that leads to a desire by his audience to know more about what we’re told we don’t need to know more about; and the deeper question -- why don’t we need to know more about this character? What’s the author up to? We have to keep reading to find out.Third sentence...We know, for example, that he was thirty-five years old.Who is this “we” who “knows” about Quinn? By not asking a question, the artist asks a question.Fourth sentence...“We know, for example, that he had once been married, had once been a father, and that both wife and son were now dead.”The artist coyly pulls us deeper into the story here. He’s hooked us on the question of this being a story about chance and the nature of reality, and now he’s offering us information in an off-hand way about a character we’re told is not important. Personally, I have to keep reading to find out what Quinn does or doesn’t have to do with this story about chance and the nature of reality.Fifth sentence...“We also know that he wrote books.”It’s hard to escape the “aha” factor with this sentence. Is the author letting us know in a sly way that this “unimportant” Quinn is his stand in? Again, we have to keep reading as the mystery around Quinn and who he is deepens with every sentence that tells us he’s of no consequence.Sixth sentence...“To be precise, we know that he wrote mystery novels.”Of course. What better setting for a story about the mystery of chance and realtity, than a narrator who writes mystery novels. It will be a natural meditation for him.Seventh sentence...“Those works were written under the name of William Wilson, and he produced them at the rate of about one a year, which brought in enough money for him to live modestly in a small New York apartment.”This sentence both introduces a question -- why William Wilson -- while sweeping away another potential area of inquiry. Since our narrator has no need to money, he won't be pressed by a common issue. It also gives the story a place, New York.Eighth sentence..."Because he spent no more than five or six months on a novel, for the rest of the year he was free do as he wished.This also translates to mean he has the time to become absorbed in the story's mystery.Ninth sentence...“He read many books, he looked at paintings, he went to the movies.”He is a man aware of the currents of his times.Tenth sentence....In the summer he watched baseball on television; in the winter he went to the opera.Again, by suggesting the details of this character’s life are unimportant, the author finds a clever way to give these details a sheen of importance.Eleventh sentence...More than anything else, however, what he liked to do was walk.One begins to feel one is being set up for another revelation here.Twelvth sentence...Nearly every day, rain or shine, hot or cold, he would leave his apartment to walk through the city, never going anywhere, but simply going wherever his legs happened to take him.This is the "simple" introduction of Quinn, this unimportant man, and the last sentence of the first page.The rest of the chapter...In the next paragraph, we're told that through walking without volition, he could bring himself to a state of emptiness.In the past, Quinn had not been so empty, but he'd given up on the personality he’d been born with to let William Wilson, the writer, be his public self, while "Quinn continued to exist, he no longer existed for anyone but himself.”Quinn, through William Wilson, keeps the world at a distance. Quinn even stops dreaming. Then comes the night of the opening sentence of the phone call. The caller? Someone looking to speak to Paul Auster, of the Auster Detective Agency.The "hook" for this story has been set. The terrain for the story now clear. Later, at the end of the first chapter, the unidentified man calls again, and this time Quinn says that HE is Paul Auster, the detective, to find out more about the caller. The caller professes that someone means to kill someone, and only Paul Auster can help.We are given almost no choice but to turn the page and start reading chapter two. The search for answers to this story's probing questions must continue.Story Review -- Chapter OneAlong with its artistic vision, this opening chapter plays to the principles of other well-told stories written in a more mundane fashion. It opens with a question that pulls us in, who is the caller? It broadens to, who is Quinn? It broadens again to, what relationship is Quinn the narrator to Auster, the fictional detective, to Auster, the novella's creator? Who is this person who will be killed without Auster's intervention?Unlike the more mundane story that builds to one revelation, Auster creates revelations around a layered texture of drama around the story’s core dramatic issue: the nature of reality as it is expressed through chance and how a fragment of the receiver’s personality that must deal with a perception of an event. Auster, in this first chapter, draws us into this world with great skill and clarity of purpose.The story continues...In chapter two, Quinn as Paul Auster meets the phone caller, the wife of a husband she fears will be murdered by his father who’s being released from prison. She seeks to hire Auster/Wilson/Quinn to protect her husband. But this is merely the surface of the story. Auster sets out a deeper realm by having the son raised by his father as part of an experiment to find a way to return to a pre-tower-of-Babel world, where “things” have a fixed, understandable meaning that can be expressed in a pure language.On a certain level, it’s a call for a return to a world of Newton, where one can confidently speak about the world as a kind of cosmic clock. Understand the mechanism, and you can predict events. With these characters, the author Auster can take his audience into a deeper mystery that what will be the outcome of this “case.” The real “mystery” of the story revolves around the author illuminating ideas about the nature of reality, personality and chance, a world that can exist outside of the Newtonian framework.In the story, the narrator becomes obsessed with the mystery of the events and its characters, particularly with the old man and his ideas about the nature of reality. But the deeper the detective “Auster/Quinn/Wilson” becomes absorbed and obsessed with finding the “truth” about the old man’s intentions, the more berift he becomes of finding any kind of truth about what’s been happening in the story. By the end of the novel, Austerm the novella’s creator, appears as a character in this story. More illuminating, Auster the author is taken to task about his actions in the story by a character who serves as kind of an oversoul, one who sits in judgement on the activities of Auster and the characters and world he’s created.This final frame for the novella creates a kind of continuum for the story that reveals a relationship between the fragment of the author that creates the fragments of characters who act in a way that creates a kind of fragmented truth for the story’s audience. This story beautifully explores the modern day terrain of what it means to live in an age where so many people appear as fragments not only to others, but to themselves.At each stage of the story, the audience is taken not only deeper to the resolution of the story's surface mystery, it's taken into an examination of the role of chance upon the formation of fragments of personality.While the story has a level of being acted out to solve its mystery, it also probes a deeper mystery of personality. Thus, the opening chapter of the novella is a set piece to take us into a first level of the story. Each chapter takes us through a corresponding series of revelations that both resolve the story's mystery while exploring the nature of personality.Where a more straight forward story could be diagrammed as having an intermeshed plot line and story line, in this story the plot line also advances the reader along a story line composed not just of events, but of a perception of events designed to make the reader a participant in the ideas of the story, just as Auster the "author" of the novella becomes a character in the story's as a fragment of his personality.To break down and diagram this story would be to reveal not only a series of events, but an examination of the ideas that underly the telling of the story itself. This, again, is the prime difference between the artist as storyteller and the writer of popular fiction. The artist creates a story world that asks the audience to explore their own terrain of thoughts and perceptions as part of taking in the experience of the story. Where a mundane story would ask, who's the murderer, etc., Auster asks, what's the nature of the self that asks these questions?That difference in focus and intent is a prime difference between art and popular entertainment.Auster is both an artist and a storyteller, a briliant writer who is a joy to read.©2007 Bill Johnson


Weird. There are a few things that REALLY bothered me about this book. First being I have no idea "who" wrote it, and therefore I have no idea if I should trust a single word written. Secondly, I like stories that have some sort of story arc or moral or point. I feel like the only point to this story is that you don't know anything about anything going on and it drove me crazy, and maybe that was the point, and if that was the case then good job Mr. Auster because you had me thoroughly confused, frustrated and feeling uneasy. This novel was written well, but I felt like if I had read the many other works referenced I would have had a better understanding of this story, or maybe it would have bothered me even more. I am glad this was short read, and I may read the next in the trilogy just to see what it is like, and perhaps it will answer my unanswered questions (who was the fat man? where are the characters now? how did his family die? who is the Australian traveler?)


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.

Chris Ryan

With nonsense like this I try to give the author the benefit of the doubt and lay the blame at my own feet. I'm going to say "I didn't get it". There were some good ideas in there, and a couple of cool scenes. But there were pages upon pages of useless nonsense.


Auster does not start his trilogy strongly. Interwoven with multiple themes and lacking a central moving force, City of Glass is a metropolis of many skyscrapers with few people to occupy them. Sparse at two-hundred pages, the novel shows how a good idea tends to sour when the author grabs too many grapes. Auster’s austere style, short sentences and plain imagery seduce the reader into believing that this is a one night read about a detective and a rich, wheelchair-bound client. But Auster has us all fooled. Soon we see it is all pretextual, this air of simplicity a cover for Auster’s covert deep endeavors. Instead of writing the dime novel, Auster has decided to heap some of the more bulky, muscular questions of life, an author’s life in particular, onto this skeleton of a story. This not only heightens the potency of each word to allegorical levels, it leaves Auster little room for error. It’s not so much that Auster blunders, but anyone knows that when one carries a bundle of sticks long enough, even across relatively smooth terrain, some sticks are bound to fall. And some sticks are thornier than others. Quinn, the novel’s protagonist, becomes embroiled in a relatively simplistic yet engaging gumshoe assignment, but very soon feels that he has become pulled into it as more than a detective. Soon, the case is circling around Quinn, rather than his clients. Then all the sticks begin to show themselves, and suddenly the reader is a bit overwhelmed. Quinn begins to appreciate that man is not divine, a weakness he simply can’t escape. A failed author himself, Quinn shows us plainly that his path in life may lead up or down, up toward the rich life of well-to-do author Paul Auster -- the character, mind you, not (necessarily) the author of this book, who shows Quinn the niceties a better book contract earlier in life may have brought him,– or down, toward the pitiful existence of the destitute madman he has been employed to trace. Quinn becomes obsessed, whether he realizes it or not, with understanding how life functions, by tracking down the Tower of Babel and its zany modern creator. Images abound of this “up and down” motif: the yo-yo of the Auster character’s son, a toy Quinn can make fall, but not rise; the rise and fall of the Tower of Babel, both the one of the ancient tale and the New World one founded in downtown Manhattan. Still, as the lesson of the Tower taught, man cannot achieve the divine, no matter how tall his skyscraper. Eventually finding himself fallen alongside the homeless, powerless to expand his explorations of the path to the divine, Quinn simply disappears. Either way, up or down, it seems no one has a true sense of the divine. From the philoso-babble of character Auster to his foil, the abusive, fallen-from-grace Stillman, no one has any answers for Quinn. And that’s fine, both in and of itself and as a theme for a book. And this is not a bad book by any means—it had me thinking about it for hours long after I had finished reading it sprawled out under the Washington Monument on the Fourth of July. But why complicate a perfectly complex book, I wondered, by fumbling in a web of relationships between the main character and both his multiple alter egos and the Auster/Auster character, none of which developed past infancy? We have the failed author Quinn; his pseudonym, William Wilson (a thinly veiled Walt Whitman (Quinn camps out on the block on which the real Whitman penned Leaves of Grass)); detective Max Work, the tough-talking character of the popular beach-reading Wilson novels, who Quinn idolizes; the character author Paul Auster, who is familiar not with Wilson’s Max Work stories but Quinn’s earlier, obscure, truer-to-the-literary-canon poetry he published under his own name. The characters meld together right from the start, when Quinn’s clients hire him believing him to be “Paul Auster.” The interrelationships between these personas, real and assumed, has no room to flourish in what is practically a novella. The reader is left confused, not so much as to who is who, but as to who wants to be whom. I can’t fault Auster for trying to tackle great enigmas; I can critique him for loading cannons on a canoe. And every time one is fired, the canoe capsizes for a while, and the reader may not have the patience to try to right it, preferring instead to simply float unfulfilled toward the story’s quick end.. I think Auster—the real author, that is – deliberately offers little prescription on how to solve the eternal problems of authorhood (thank god he left the missile launcher on the dock!) but the reader does come away with the idea that all authors really do is live through writing. Just live and write—it’s as simple as that. Maybe a few too many wee morning hours wracking his brain over just how complicated his relations with his characters can become led Auster to set all those troubles down in words, words which any detective novel aficionado could follow. Or maybe Auster is just a sucker for an expanded haiku of a novel: few words, a waterfall of meanings. Either way, it’s only the first book in the trilogy, and sometimes the kinks of overambition work themselves out.


Surreal at timesMeta fiction

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


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

Ashland Mystery Oregon

I nearly put this book down a dozen times while I was reading it, but now that it's done, I can't forget it. City of Glass is totally believable, a wondrous example of insane isolation and anonymity that one expects of Manhattan, but really it could be any city. The boundaries between reality and fantasy are almost indistinguishable and as a reader, you don't know which path is true and which is the distractor. You don't know what is true or false in any of the characters and identities are notions. There are so many confusing shifts of voice and time just lost that the narrative is hard to track, but that's exactly the perfect insanity of the characters and the work. You must track them all. And finally, the ending - so tragic, so utterly mad. The invisibility of humanity. The absolute aloneness of the individual. -- Ashland Mystery

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.


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.


Rather than philosophizing at you in the midst of a conventional novel, like Kundera, Auster places his characters in philosophical predicaments. If the results aren't all that illuminating, neither is philosophy itself.


Worthless babble. I like detective stories and I heard Hideo Kojima is a fan of Paul Auster so I decided to check this out. Nearly every bit of it wreaks of a writer who is just writing whatever the hell enters his mind. He wastes your time stringing together a bunch of useless pretentious ideas that don't really mean anything. This is not really a detective story at all, and that wouldn't really have bothered me if at least it had been somewhat enjoyable. The idea of a wrong number caller asking the main character to speak to the author is great but unfortunately that was the only good idea Auster had.He wants to talk about the meanings of words, about writing, about Don Quixote, and some terribly boring Christian research. He uses a plot he obviously wasn't that interested in to guide the reader into conversations where he can load you with a bunch of essay-like ideas that as a whole amount to nothing more than circular double talk (as is the case with most academic writing, which this in several places seems to converge with).Almost every time you encounter a movie or book where the work calls attention to itself as a work of art and includes the creator in the work, it turns out to be a half-assed piece of crap. Why? Well if you are a writer yourself, you know that whenever you get an idea to do something like that it's because you've run out of ideas and you just want to write something and the easiest, most in front of your face thing you can do is to write your own boring ass into the story and thereby totally give up on writing a real fictitious story at all.

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.


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.

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