‘The New York Trilogy’ by Paul Auster

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BLURB/SUMMARY: Originally published sequentially as City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1986), it has since been collected into a single volume. Ostensibly presented as detective fiction, the stories of The New York Trilogy have been described as “meta-detective-fiction”, “anti-detective fiction”, “mysteries about mysteries”, a “strangely humorous working of the detective novel”, “very soft-boiled”, a “meta-mystery” and a “mixture between the detective story and the nouveau roman. This may classify Auster as a postmodern writer whose works are influenced by the “classical literary movement” of American postmodernism through the 1960s and 70s.

READ IF YOU LIKE: Detective novellas

FAVOURITE QUOTE“In the end, each life is no more than the sum of contingent facts, a chronicle of chance intersections, of flukes, of random events that divulge nothing but their own lack of purpose.”

PAGE COUNT: Approx 314

STAR RATING: ★★★★☆ – extraordinary and intriguing

I’m not quite sure what I thought of this book, having finished it five minutes ago it is proving quite hard to gather my thoughts and decide. It both frustrated me and intrigued me, remaining a complete mystery even after it had ended. It is comprised of three parts, City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room. All take a twist on the classic detective novel, and although never explicitly linked, all are loosely connected with the use of names and figures. Overall, the smooth and rich writing of Auster coupled with the sneaky and ironic use of recurring names and personas makes this a completely unique read which takes the motif of the detective novel somewhere different.

City of Glass – focuses on a man who is accidentally hired to protect a man from his father after his release from prison. After following, and losing, both the father and the family he was hired to protect, he goes mad and starts living homeless on the street, never finding either party again.

Ghosts – Again, a man (Blue) is hired to follow another man (Black), and moves into a room across the street from him in order to spy on his every move. The mystery is that there is absolutely no mystery, Blue being driven insane by the lack of

The Locked Room – The protagonist is unnamed in the final piece, and centres around another character named Fanshawe, who’s entire life and story of his disappearance being documented by Auster and unlike the first 2 books, leaving little to be imagined. It came to the strongest conclusion and resolution and is often seen to be the best of the three novellas. I connected far stronger with the characters of this last book than with any of the others, whose plots were so protagonist-centric that I found myself bored of them half way through.

These first two books (City of Glass and Ghosts) had a similar journey I thought, they both focused on one lonely protagonist who never really forms strong connections with another character, remaining detached and descending into madness or solitude for the large portion of the story. As much as I did focus on the writing which I enjoyed and the way Auster exploits the form and structure of the detective story, the long rambling monologues of the main characters who had little communication with the outside world made me feel a bit stir-crazy.

The last book, The Locked Room, as I said was by far the best. It was more substantial, with a more accessible plot line and more of a resolution at the end of the book, however still followed Auster’s pattern of leaving the reader dissatisfied, almost able to come to closure, but not quite. Some continuity there! Coupled with the endless paradoxes and contradictions questioning the existence of man and humanity I often felt frustrated, and  with Auster’s writing being so smooth and clean, it was more about the substance of the individual words than the plot development, meaning you have to read extremely carefully and attentively – not my strong point…

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the New York Trilogy, as it gave me an insight into a fundamentally different way of writing, a twisted world of connections and signs all centred around the idea of a detective novel. Auster’s writing is unique, and although the NYT can frustrate at times and is somewhat of a challenge, I recommend it!!

‘Elizabeth is Missing’ by Emma Healey

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It’s quite rare that I don’t finish a book, and so it’s even more rare that I would write a review about a book I haven’t finished. However, this book disagreed with me so much that I didn’t really have the strength to go on after 89 excruciating pages. I know. 89 is a bit of a pathetic effort on my part. But this came at a time in my life when I needed a comfort book, something that would reassure me that life is okay! (which the next book I read did) And this book obviously, due to its rather depressing premise, did not.

It centres around Maud who is ‘forgetful’ i.e she has debilitating dementia which honestly, and I think accidentally, reflected in the writing of the book. I still don’t want to ruin the story for me incase I suddenly take it upon myself to start it again, but the basic gist of this book is that her friend Elizabeth, has disappeared from her usual routine, and because she’s the mad old lady nobody takes her seriously so she decides to take it upon herself.

Its a slow, slow, slow read (or the parts that I read anyway). And the reason I didn’t battle through the book like I did with A Secret History (read my review here) or Alone in Berlin is that the protagonists of those books felt like they had things to offer me, or at least write rudely about. Maud really really bored me, and sadly that was due to the writing, because other than that a book about dementia could have been handled really well. But the challenge to depict the mind of a senile old woman wasn’t handled well by Healey, and I found myself with a case of Reading Every Single Sentence 10 Times Because I Kept Getting Lost on the Page Due to Extreme Boredom.

If you feel like spoiling the end for me, or buying my copy, feel free, as it is unlikely I will be returning to this book.

*Disclaimer* Due to the extreme hype around this book, I am probably extremely WRONG about this book, I’m sure it’s amazing, but my A-Level exam brain had slightly primitive reactions to things that bored me, so I probably deserve to have it spoilt for me. Sorry Emma Healey.