The New York Trilogy – Paul Auster
February 8, 2012 § 3 Comments
I bought this book because a few of us were going to Starbucks for the afternoon/evening, and I hadn’t brought anything to read with me. The book was on promotion, and I had always been quite curious about what sort of writing Paul Auster does, having heard quite a bit about him, especially about The New York Trilogy. It was supposed to be a good book, and reading the blurb at the back, I decided that I was in the mood for some good detective story.
So I was just sitting there with a couple of my friends, sipping coffee and turning the pages. At the end of the first chapter, I looked up and stared into space. The friend sitting opposite of me looked up at me after a while, and smiled.
I guess in a way, people who read books on a regular basis would know right from the start, what that blank stare means. It’s like taking a breather after swimming under water for just slightly too long. Or like the few moments just right after waking up from a fitful dream. It’s the time when we take just a second or two for our hearts to unclench and beat normally again.
I knew The New York Trilogy would be different from other detective stories. Heck, I even knew that it would be completely different from the Sherlock Holmes stories I’m still reading (albeit less often now). But knowing it’s different, and experiencing the difference is like land and water. Two completely different elements altogether.
When things were whole, we felt confident that our words could express them. But little by little these things have broken apart, shattered, collapsed into chaos. And yet our words have remained the same. They have not adapted themselves to the new reality. Hence, every time we try to speak of what we see, we speak falsely, distorting the very thing we are trying to represent. It’s made a mess of everything. […] Consider a word that refers to a thing – “umbrella”, for example. When I say the word “umbrella”, you see the object in your mind. You see a kind of stick, with collapsible metal spokes on top that form an armature for a waterproof material which, when opened, will protect you from rain. This last detail is important. Not only is an umbrella a thing, it is a thing that performs a function – in other words, expresses the will of man. […] Now, my question is this. What happens when a thing no longer performs its function> Is it still the thing, or has it become something else? When you rip the cloth off the umbrella, is the umbrella still an umbrella? You open the spokes, put them over your head, walk out into the rain, and you get drenched. Is it possible to go on calling this object an umbrella?
I could very well go on copying the entire paragraph, which continues with some more rather interesting thoughts. It’s just that by reading this, which part of it screams “detective story”? None of it. But the essence, that’s right, the essence of the three stories are indeed, detective stories at their cores.
You’ve got a detective whose job is to shadow a person. Somewhere along the way, lines get blurred as they always do, and the shadower is no longer sure that he is the shadower. Is he the one being shadowed instead?
The world saw me as a bright young fellow, a new critic on the rise, but inside myself I felt old, already used up. What I had done so far amounted to a mere fraction of nothing at all. It was so much dust, and the slightest wind would blow it away.
It’s like stripping down the usual detective stories that have the usual suspects and clues and people to follow and which usually concludes with an answer to the mystery, and leaving it bare with only what is essentially necessary, and nothing more. Add to this nakedness some accessories that only accentuate the nudity, and you have The New York Trilogy.
Theoretically, I felt inspired, and whenever I was not working, my head was filled with ideas. But each time I sat down to put something on paper, my thoughts seemed to vanish. Words died the moment I lifted my pen.
It is New York. And it is Paul Auster.