This modern trilogy is made up of three short stories, City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986), and The Locked Room (1986), each published individually before being made into a one-volume edition in 1990. Written by Paul Auster, the trilogy examines the changing identities and ideas of the self through Auster’s main characters, Quinn in City of Glass, Blue in Ghosts, and the un-named narrator in The Locked Room. Auster also experiments with the connection and relationship between author, narrator and protagonist, making them flow seamlessly into the same thing.
In City of Glass, Quinn receives a strange phone call late one evening, asking if he is Paul Auster, the famous private investigator. This is an obvious use of Auster exploring the difference between writer and character, including himself within his own fiction. Quinn says that Auster is not available and puts the phone down, regretting this decision almost instantly, as he is a writer of detective fiction in need of a new idea for his next novel. A few nights later, the phone rings again, asking exactly the same question. Quinn pretends that he is Paul and is asked to meet at a specific date, location and time. Quinn meets Peter Stillman, a man living in fear of his abusive father, who is about to be let out of prison. Peter wants Quinn/Auster to follow his father to make sure no harm comes to him. Quinn accepts the challenge, keeping track of all Stillman Senior’s moves in a little red pocket notebook. Quinn/Auster becomes obsessed with following Stillman and stops eating or sleeping, knowing that any time spent not observing him is time he could be up to something secretive.
The next story, Ghosts, follows a similar pattern of events. Blue is asked to observe and follow Black, but is not given a specific reason. He assumes it is something to do with an affair. Blue is given a paid-for apartment exactly opposite where Black, who seems to do nothing but read, write and eat, lives. The two characters meet, but Blue disguises himself so that Black does not recognise him. Similarly to Quinn, Blue is sent mad by his attempts to follow and record every single movement of Black. In both stories, the self is completely lost, and Quinn and Blue almost become the people they are tracking down. Quinn has become “lost, not only in the city, but within himself as well”.
The final instalment, The Locked Room is narrated, as I have said, by an unnamed narrator who tells the story of his friendship with his childhood friend, Fanshawe, who has mysteriously disappeared. The narrator moves in pretty quickly with Fanshawe’s wife Sophie, and they marry within the year. The narrator then publishes all of Fanshawe’s literary works and novels, which are acclaimed and considered to be masterpieces. But what has really happened to Fanshawe and will the narrator ever discover it?
I was very confused with names and identities, as I was probably supposed to be. Obviously Quinn is the central character of City of Glass, a writer of detective fiction. He hides behind the pseudonym William Wilson and his books feature the detective Max Work. Quinn then becomes Auster, as his identity is confused by Peter Stillman. Within the first three chapters, Quinn has four various identities. Peter also has a confusing identity; since the abuse he suffered from his father, he is not altogether there. He says to Quinn: “My real name is Mr Sad. What is your name, Mr Auster? Perhaps you are the real Mr Sad, and I am no one…I am Peter Stillman. That is not my real name. My real name is Peter Rabbit…Perhaps I am Peter Stillman, and perhaps I am not. My real name is Peter Nobody…I cannot say who I will be tomorrow. Each day is new, and each day I can be born again.” Auster himself claims “I am neither Fanshawe nor the narrator. Maybe I am both.”
Despite all the confusion, I enjoyed Auster’s writing style and I really enjoyed the plot. However, I hated the ambiguous endings, and I was left very confused, wondering what had just happened. The narrator, right at the end of The Locked Room, states that: “The entire story comes down to what happened at the end…These three stories are finally the same story, but each one represents a different stage in my awareness of what it is about”. Does this imply that Quinn, Blue and Unnamed Narrator are all the same person?
Next review: Beloved, by Toni Morison.