Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, April 2, 2011

"The New York Trilogy" by Paul Auster

Between the siren song of my garden during this beautiful spring weather, and unexpectedly finding the wind knocked out of me more than once during the time I was reading it, I fear I've made the mistake of waiting too long to post about Paul Auster's New York Trilogy. If my thoughts were chaotic and disorganized upon completing the book, my literary amnesia has done nothing towards unifying them in the space of a week. It doesn't help that the stories have already begun to fade from my memory.

While my procrastination might be unfortunate in any case, it's quite a shame with this specific book, because it was AMAZING. I do remember that much.

This trilogy contains three novellas, each set in New York City. (Would you ever have guessed?) The stories are not obviously related in the sense of belonging together as a series, but there are tenuous links between the characters from one story to the next, and the similarities in themes are conspicuous.

In each story Auster gives us a sense of a writer who is isolated from those surrounding him, living as a quiet spectator rather than a participant. All three novellas are mysterious, but they can't be considered mysteries in the traditional sense. As Auster himself puts it, “Mystery novels give answers; my work is about asking questions.” Though each of the three stories could stand alone, they are well-matched in theme with a main character in the midst of an investigation, writing down all of his observations as his obsession with his subject grows. Auster examines solitude and the introspection it invites, dissolution of identity, and descent into madness.

This book is definitely a keeper. I certainly will want to re-read it some day. You'll find it lacking if you're a reader who needs all the answers, but for me it was an entirely satisfying read. And if you've read and loved this trilogy, you should really read The Amnesiac. It's a similarly mysterious story with more questions than answers, but it's also more fully developed than these three novellas of Auster's, and its comparably ambiguous ending is carried off more effectively.


Becky (Page Turners) said...

I am glad that you said you loved it - I have never read Auster but I never really read any great reviews of him eiher. He seems to be one of those authors that is a bit hard to get into. You have made me feel better about giving him a try and I might start with this trilogy when I can get my hands on it.

Charley said...

I consider myself a fan of Paul Auster, although I've finished only one of the 3 books I've picked up by him. I'm looking to read more books set in New York this year, so I'll definitely keep this one in mind. I think The Brooklyn Follies is already on my list.

Ben said...

It's an amazing novel indeed (or amazing novellas). Too bad most of the rest of Auster's work tries to emulate the trilogy and doesn't live up to it. I'm not the biggest Auster cognoscenti though. And I might be up for a read soon.

The Locked Room (the third novella) is one of my favorite works of metafiction.

Jo said...

You did better than me! I read and enjoyed this, spent hours puzzling over it, and tracing the links, and then found myself completely unable to find any words at all that made sense!

Kathy said...

Becky--I hope you do get your hands on it. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts!

Charley--now I'm curious--why didn't you finish the other two books of his? This was my first Auster experience, and you make me wonder if I shouldn't seek out more of his books.

Ben--I've heard that this is Auster's best (although I suppose not everyone would agree). And I would say that The Locked Room was my favorite of the three novellas. Although I do wonder if that's just because it's the last one I read! I mean, I think maybe whichever I read most recently would be my favorite.

Jo--did you try to blog about it? I'll have to look and see. Based on what you said, maybe it wouldn't have helped me at all to write about it right away!

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