The New York Trilogy

by Paul Auster
Start Free Trial

Analysis

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 500

In the three novels that comprise The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster both satirizes and pays homage to the classic detective novel. While each book stands on its own, they are connected thematically and in tone. Auster uses numerous allusions, especially to literary characters, and evokes multiple detective and mystery traditions of different times and places. The author also inserts a character with his own name into the action, encouraging the reader to determine the degree of congruity between that Paul Auster and the novelist. In these ways and more, the novels themselves become mysteries as the reader tries to connect the clues and search for misplaced bits that could fill the gaps the author leaves. This playful aura is highlighted by his imaginative use of language, but it contrasts with the darkness of some themes, as befitting his evocation of classic noir.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The initials of the detective, David Quinn, are those of Don Quixote, and another character in City of Glass is Mrs. Saavedra, the second last name of Miguel de Cervantes, Quixote’s author. Similarly, as a writer, Quinn takes the pseudonym of William Wilson, also the title character of a story by Edgar Allan Poe. Daniel is also the name of the character Auster’s son. With his seemingly infinite web of connections, the author stimulates and sustains a sense of conspiracy or complicity with the reader, who wonders what new twist will emerge on each successive page. Language itself figures prominently in these endless mysteries. The elusive character of Peter Stillman, who conducts research on the Tower of Babel, is psychologically disturbed, as evidenced by his studying the effects of isolation by locking away his own son for years—an apparent allusion to Sigismundo, the character from Life Is a Dream. Quinn’s quest for answers leads him to identify with the older Stillman, however, in the sense of doubting his own sanity.

In the second volume, Ghosts, Auster pushes the setting back into the 1940s, and seems to offer deliberately flat characters, whose last names are all colors. Here the client’s identity is part of the mystery, as seeker and quarry, named White and Black are conflated, creating a different mystery for detective Blue to solve. Like Quinn will do later, Blue suffers a breakdown.

Mental instability also arises in the third novel’s detective, the unnamed narrator of The Locked Room; like Quinn, he is a writer. The mysterious disappearance of another writer, Fanshaw, and his wife’s hiring both the narrator and Quinn to find him, add further layers of indeterminacy. The reader is left to decide for themself if the characters, such as Quinn, who bear the same name are intended to be the same person in the different novels. Perhaps all the novels are meant to be the literary outpost of the vanished Fanshaw. Keeping the reader engaged by not settling for any single overall tone, and encouraging both playfulness and serious consideration, are constant features of Auster’s approach.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Previous

Critical Essays

Next

Quotes