Blasts from the Past: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster (1985-6)

Cover imageThis is the latest in a series of occasional posts featuring books I read years ago about which I was wildly enthusiastic at the time, wanting to press a copy in as many hands as I could.

Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy used to be a handy bellwether for me when talking to bookish acquaintances not yet friends. Enthusiasm might well lead to friendship, blank looks or – worse – annoyance might make me think twice. Of course, this doesn’t always hold true – H can’t stand it and we’re still together. The first thing you should know is that it’s a piece of metafiction and if you’re one of those readers who thinks that kind of thing is too tricksily clever for its own good, best move on.

City of Glass is the first of the three novels. Its protagonist is a crime writer who becomes a private investigator, later driven mad by his inability to solve a crime. Ghosts is about a private eye bored to the point of insanity by his surveillance of his writer subject while The Locked Room, whose title refers to a literary device in early detective fiction, is about a blocked writer who discovers his old friend’s unpublished fiction and not only publishes it but takes his missing friend’s place in his family. Each of the novels is closely interconnected with the others. It’s all about identity, writing and the many-layered nature of reality: Paul Austers abound in the first novel – a particular bugbear of H’s – and the second’s protagonists are all named after colours.

I’ve read all three novels several times over the years but not for a while, it has to be said. Writing about them now, I wonder if I’d feel quite so passionately as I did all those years ago although I still have a very soft spot for metafiction as my reading of Ben Lerner’s 10:04 last year reminded me.

What about you, any blasts from the past you’d like to share?

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19 thoughts on “Blasts from the Past: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster (1985-6)”

  1. I love Paul Auster’s work (except the recent autobiographical pieces) but oddly this is one I haven’t read yet. I think I’ve been doing that weird thing of saving it for something although I don’t know what it when that something is!

    1. I’d agree about the autobiographical pieces. If you’re off on holiday, Naomi, it might be one to pack.

  2. I’ve a couple of his books but not this one. I do like a good trilogy and remember one I really enjoyed a few years back by Sandra Gulland The Josephine Bonaparte trilogy which was excellent, all three of them.

  3. Paul Auster is one of my touchstone authors. I’ve read a lot of his books including some autobiographical ones. I’ve read The New York Trilogy three times, loving it all the more each time – so for me it did stand up.

  4. It’s a long time now since I read the trilogy, but I remember liking it so much I went on to pretty much every novel since. Some drop in quality in recent years I think, but always interesting. Blast from the past, in American fiction: Denis Johnson, Jesus’ Son – short stories which some people think are affected nonsense; I think they’re superb.

    1. I had the same experience. ‘Affected nonsense’ pretty well sums up my partner’s opinion of Auster’s trilogy so I won’t be suggesting Jesus’ Son to him but will check it out for myself. Thanks.

  5. Oh I love The New York Trilogy. The first part is most powerful, I think, but they all work quite strongly together. It’s a while since I’ve read it. Auster is one of those writers who I binged on and then later feel like I grew out of when he because tedious and self-important, kind of like Murakami who blew it with 1Q84 and I haven’t read since. But for all my (now) dismissal of Auster, this book remains in my collection as a loved old book.

    What I particularly like about Auster is how reading him led me to his wife, Siri Hustvedt. I think she is the better writer. So for my blast from the past I’d mention What I Loved by Hustvedt. It’s a cracker.

    1. Ah well, I loved 1Q84 – Alice in Wonderland all over again! We are as one over Siri Hustvedt though, Belinda. She’s a future Blast from the Past post. What I Loved is one of the best modern novels I’ve read.

      1. Maybe I was maxed out on Murakami by then. It seemed bloated and full of cliches. A good idea, but too baggy and too tainted with male fantasy. Not well executed. But it is a long time since I read it, maybe it was just a reaction. I still find his earlier work compelling, though. I think he reached his pinnacle with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.

        1. Ah, but you’re never too far away from male fantasy with Murakami! I did start it with a sinking heart given its size but it drew me in and held my attention despite that. I read it on holiday and so perhaps was a little less critical than usual (and I’m very fond of Alice and it’s many allusions).

    1. I remember when Obama used to be auto-corrected to Osama – hard to get more inappropriate than that!

  6. I read The New York Trilogy a few years ago and loved it! I find Auster a bit hit and miss. Sometimes he can be a bit too clever-clever and self-indulgent, but I thought TNYT was genius!

    1. Delighted to hear that! I have to admit to going off the boil a little with Auster recently. I’ve transferred my loyalties to his wife, Siri Hustvedt.

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