Sunday, 22 May 2011

Book #40 The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

The New York Trilogy

The New York Trilogy isn't a trilogy in the sense that Steig Larsson's Millenium Trilogy is a trilogy or The Lord Of Rings is a trilogy, it's three extended short stories 'City Of Glass', 'Ghosts' and 'The Locked Room'. It's another example of metafiction, which I wasn't expecting, I can't remember who recommended it to me in the first instance or what they said about it. Whilst the use of metafiction is totally unintrusive in 'The Things They Carried', you knew it was there but it didn't effect the story, it is so intrusive in 'The New York Trilogy' that I think it probably counts as an example of 'breaking the fourth wall' or if it doesn't quite technically fit the criteria, it comes very close.

I hate it when authors break the fourth wall, I like to become immersed in the story, the characters, and pretend at least for the duration I read it that I am a visitor to the world about which I am reading. I don't like the authors wagging finger appearing in my face and saying 'this isn't REAL you know, it's just a STORY'. I know that already, I know the difference between fiction and non fiction.

I think one of the central discussion points of the trilogy is on the nature of authorship, and whether the story is more important than its author and the author is essentially irrelevant. In 'City Of Glass' Daniel Quinn is a formerly successful poet who following terrible tragedy now writes mystery stories, churning out one a year under the pseudonym 'William Wilson'. He receives a phonecall in the dead of night looking for a private detective named Paul Auster whom he then impersonates. Essentially all Auster has done here is use his own name as a character name but the effect is nonetheless jarring. A separate character who coincidentally also shares the name Paul Auster appears later on. I didn't like it. In the last story 'The Locked Room' the question of authorship arises again. A man publishes the work of his missing, presumed dead, friend and is asked whether he would consider writing a few more novels under his friends name, the public being none the wiser. I wondered briefly if Paul Auster wasn't a real person and that was part of the point but it seems that he is.     

'The Locked Room' is actually quite a good story, but in it he re-uses several character names from 'City Of Glass' including, at one point, Paul Auster, and I just found this approach really very irritating. The characters in The Locked Room are not the ones from City Of Glass either they just have the same names. I think he's trying to make another point with this and that is that the names don't matter only the story. In Ghosts, Auster replaces every character name with a colour, which sounds like a small thing but actually makes it quite hard to read.  

I wonder if a lot of reviews at the time praised Auster for playing with formats and BREAKING NEW GROUND, but I found something quite arrogant about it, a tone which suggests he thinks he's a better and more innovative writer than he actually is. The sense that he's writing for the critics, and the literary world at large. The first two stories are genuinely confusing, and I didn't really "take away" much from the book having finished it. I felt quite "so what?" about it. 

In the first story Quinn meets a young woman reading one of his mystery novels, when she tells him she's finding it average without knowing he's the author, he leaves, because he is afraid he might punch her in the face. I kind of had the same feeling towards Auster throughout. A disappointment 5/10

No comments:

Post a Comment