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Friday, June 14

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

It has been a while since I last read a detective story; in fact, I remember having spent an entire summer of my teenage life, reading detective stories. It all started with a bad case of cold that forced me to stay in bed for a week and skip school. I felt so miserable and sick that my father, who was also an avid reader, started reading detective stories to me. He had this great voice and an excellent sense of humour so it didn't take me long to fall in love with the gentleman thief Arsène Lupin, the ingenious Sherlock Holmes, the rubicund Hercule Poirot or the cunning Melania of Rodica Ojog-Brasoveanu's detective novels. Later on, my readings broadened and I took a liking to fiction, but that all-detective story year and my bonding to my father are a dear memory to me.

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster is kind of a post-modernist detective genre, a mixture of traditional formulae of detective fiction and multi-layered story structure. The heroes are no longer the elegant, well-spoken, witty characters of Raymond Chandler or Gaston Leroux, they are rather complex human beings caught in intellectual dilemmas and bound to do unexplainable, bizarre things. It is not just the anti-detective heroes that catch your eye, it is also Paul Auster's personal, warm style that gets under your skin and makes your reading way better than you have anticipated.

The New York Trilogy, collected together in 1987, is Paul Auster’s first and most famous work of fiction. In the first novella, “City of Glass,” a detective, Quinn, is offered the job of  following a man who may be thoughtfully observing his son’s murder. In “Ghosts,” another detective, Blue, is hired to follow a man who may or may not be aware that he is being followed. In “The Locked Room,” an unsuccessful writer is asked by his friend’s wife to help publish his vanishing friend’s manuscripts. The three stories are interlocked in the way the characters sway from one crime scene to the other and the manner in which all seem more preoccupied with the existential aspect of life rather than the  materialistic.

Loss of identity is a major team in his three short stories and it is an opportunity for the characters to reinvent themselves or assume someone else's life; one identity is slowly disintegrated only to allow a new one to emerge. Moreover, his readings are a challenge as the roles of detectives, writer and reader are interchangeable and bring you loser to Paul Auster's perspective of reality. My favourite was The Locked Room, whose title is inspired from a the locked room mystery, a sub-genre of detective fiction; a crime happens under almost impossible circumstances, in a locked room, where no one could have entered. It reminded me of Le Mystère de la Chambre Jaune by French journalist and author Gaston Leroux. Like Chinese boxes, this short story contains other stories in it, switching perspectives and making the reader aware of life's unreality.

Fanshawe has disappeared, leaving his six-months pregnant wife, Sophie, and has not returned.  Thinking he's dead, Sophie contacts an unnamed narrator, a childhood friend of her husband, to evaluate Fanshawe’s writings and decide if they are worth being published. The narrator and the literary community are impressed by the man's talent, get him successfully. published. Sophie and the writer fall in love, marry but their happiness is short-lived.
I would like to end this review with a link to an interview with Paul Auster, as it is essential to get a better understanding of the writer himself before reading his great stories:


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