David's Reviews > The New York Trilogy: City of Glass/ Ghosts/ the Locked Room

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
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Further update, June 19th 2012.

In response to several thoughtful comments that take issue with the nastiness of my initial review, I have come to the conclusion that the comments in question are essentially correct. Please see my own response in comment #32 in the discussion. And thanks to those who called me on this, apologies for my earlier vitriolic responses. In general, I try to acknowledge the validity of other opinions in my reviews and comments, something I notably failed to do in this discussion. I should have been more civil, initially and subsequently.


Update:

WELL, CONGRATULATIONS, PAUL AUSTER!!

I wouldn't actually have thought it possible, but with the breathtakingly sophomoric intellectual pretension of the final 30 pages of "City of Glass", you have actually managed to deepen my contempt and loathing for you, and the overweening, solipsistic, drivel that apparently passes for writing in your particular omphaloskeptic corner of the pseudo-intellectual forest in which you live, churning out your mentally masturbatory little turdlets.

Gaaaah. Upon finishing the piece of smirkingly self-referential garbage that was "City of Glass", I wanted to jump in a showever and scrub away the stinking detritus of your self-congratulatory, hypercerebral, pomo, what a clever-boy-am-I, pseudo-intellectual rubbish from my mind. But not all the perfumes of Araby would be sufficient - they don't make brain bleach strong enough to cleanse the mind of your particular kind of preening, navel-gazing idiocy.

All I can do is issue a clarion call to others who might be sucked into your idiotic, time-wasting, superficially clever fictinal voyages to nowhere. There is emphatically no there there. The intellectual vacuum at the core of Auster's fictions is finally nothing more than that - empty of content, devoid of meaning, surrounded with enough of the pomo trappings to keep the unwary reader distracted. But, if you're looking for meaning in your fiction, for God's sake look elsewhere.

And, please - spare me your pseudoprofound epiphanies of the sort that the emptiness at the core of Auster's tales is emblematic of the kind of emptiness that's at the core of modern life. Because that brand of idiocy butters no parsnips with me - I got over that kind of nonsense as a freshman in college. At this point in my life I expect a little more from anyone who aspires to be considered a writer worth taking seriously.

Which Paul Auster, though I have no doubt that he takes himself very, very seriously indeed, is not. This little emperor of Brooklyn is stark naked, intellectually speaking.

The only consolation is that I spent less than $5 for this latest instalment of Austercrap.

Gaaaah. PASS THE BRAINBLEACH.


Earlier comment begins below:

My loathing for the only other of Paul Auster's books that I had read (the Music of Chance) was so deep that it's taken me over ten years before I can bring myself to give him another chance. But finally, today, after almost three weeks of reading only short pieces in Spanish, my craving for fiction in English was irresistible, so I picked up a second-hand copy of The New York Trilogy in the English-language bookstore here in Guanajuato.

So far so good. I'm about three-quarters through the first story of the trilogy and I'm enjoying it, without actually liking it, if that makes sense. Auster seems to owe a clear debt of influence to Mamet - there's the same predilection for games, puzzles, and the influence of chance. Thankfully, the influence doesn't extend to dialog, which Mamet has always seemed to me to wield clumsily, like a blunt instrument. Auster is more subtle, but he still holds his characters at such a remote distance, it gives his writing a cerebral quality that is offputting at times. Thus, one can enjoy the situations he sets up and the intricacies of the story, without quite liking his fiction.

Who knows, maybe I will feel differently after I've read all three stories?
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Comments (showing 1-40 of 40) (40 new)

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message 1: by Jo M. (last edited May 30, 2008 11:34AM) (new)

Jo M. F. "one can enjoy the situations he sets up and the intricacies of the story, without quite liking his fiction.

That about describes my reaction to Auster's novel, Brooklyn Follies. From the book jacket, I thought I would enjoy it. I did not love it -- the tone was weird and awkward, but it was a good story and that kept me going. If after finishing NY Trilogy you want to try another Auster, give Brooklyn Follies a try.



message 2: by Yulia (last edited Jun 02, 2008 03:35PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Yulia Fabulous! I have to note Brooklyn Follies isn't worth ever reading either, nor is any other book by Auster: if you don't already think him a literary god, you never will. Amazingly (shockingly, disturbingly, frightfully), a full nine works by Auster make it into 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Of course, with such an idiotic notion as the premise for a list-book, it's no surprise the same people who would think of considering on their deathbed books not read instead of truths not admitted or love not shared or forgiveness not sought, it's no surprise Auster is deified. Long live Auster. I, however, can't live long enough to be motivated to read another of his books. I hope you're having a meaningful time in Mexico.


message 3: by Gail (new)

Gail Whoa-ho, Yulia! Super comment on the list-maker's mind; I loved it!
David, I take it Auster is not your friend. I'm trying to read the "N.Y. Trilogy" and it's a rough, rough go. Thought I should see what all the shouting was/is about...but apparently, as so often happens nowadays, it's about nothing. Nothing at all.
Superb comments on this book and author. Thanks to you all.


Yulia Gail, the first and third stories are at least readable, the second isn't, in case you're still interested.


message 5: by Gail (new)

Gail What, please, is sauve qui peut?


message 6: by Gail (new)

Gail But it sounds soooo much better! Thanks for the info.; I'm a terrible collector of foreign words/phrases, which I like to use in my own mind, and of course when I'm reading it really helps to know this stuff.
Back to the book review: I'm reading "City of Glass", which is kind of stupid (I mean the story is kind of stupid), I think. Seems like Auster liked the noir genre but felt he had to dress his effort up in some phony avant-garde b.s. that actually takes away from the story. This is my first go with Auster and it may well be my last; he's just not worth the time when there is so much else to read.
Just realized that I used a couple of the foreign doo-dahs in my post. Heh.


message 7: by Paul (new)

Paul Classify Paul Auster alongside David Lynch, they both like to trick their audiences and then jeer at them for being tricked so easily - Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive are the same as NYT, there is no there there, to quote David's very accurate review.


Erik Simon Thank you, David. You justify my never having read him, a choice I made because I so distrusted the tastes of all those who spoke so highly of him.


message 9: by David (new) - added it

David Part of my loathing for Auster stems from a lack of patience with cleverness for its own sake in storytelling, particularly when it becomes clear that an author's writing is entirely cerebral, with nothing coming from the heart. Which is, I think, very much the case with Auster.
But what gave my original rant its slightly over-the-top quality (and motivated my use of the adjective 'overweening') was my stupefaction at the hubris Auster displays in the little self-referential trick when he places himself as a 'character' in "City of Glass". The only contribution of the Auster 'character' is to provide a little discourse on the mechanism Cervantes uses in presenting "Don Quixote" to his readers (that it was a translation of a manuscript in Arabic that Cervantes came across by chance). Given that we are told later (SPOILER ALERT - though it hardly matters) that the whole "City of Glass" narrative is later based on the notebook of a character who crosses Auster's path by chance, what parallel is Auster drawing here? That's right - he's setting himself up as a latter-day Cervantes.

What unmitigated gall! (Is there any other kind?)
Besides which, didn't Borges already play with this whole notion?


Yulia And not a latter-day saint. Too bad.


Andras Paul made a good point of compare Auster with David. They are using the same trick, making mysteries about nothing.

But I like it. I enjoy post-modern storys within storys, and weirdness for its own sake. Auster is one of my favorit writers just because the story is not so importent and the text is kept short. Mindbending is whats makes it great. Plus all his books are the same, which makes him a work of art in himself. LOL!


message 12: by Paul (new)

Paul You got me there Andras. Maybe it's a form of abstract impressionism posing as narrative. That would explain a lot.


message 13: by H L (new) - rated it 5 stars

H L Too much protestation going on here about the lack of a pot of gold at the end of the narrative. The journey's the thing, and the language that is the magic carpet of this particular journey is easy enough to appreciate on its own merit. Whining about contrivances is completely besides the point...


message 14: by Paul (new)

Paul Yes, art does not have to be about anything, it just has to be. This is the story of modern painting, from representation to abstraction. Auster casts his abstract doodlings inside an essentially narrative form though and has thereby sought to fool a few people. He should write poetry.
This is a rather reductive different strokes for different folks debate, I think. The Austerites aren't going to budge, and the rest of us won't be picking him up any time soon. Once bitten, twice shy.

Now then, is this music?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zp5HHI...




message 15: by David (new) - added it

David I think Paul's comment about different strokes is on the mark. But I make no apologies for taking an author to task* for failing to fulfil what I still consider to be a prime responsibility to the reader, which is to tell a decent story.

Borges (who Auster so desperately wants to emulate) manages to do so brilliantly, time after time. Auster fails.

No, I don't buy that post-modern claptrap about the "journey" being the thing. If I get on your damned bus, I would like it to take me somewhere.

As Paul said, "different strokes".

*: Which is certainly not the same as mere "whining", by the way, a regrettable choice of words in LN's otherwise interesting comment.


Salavin I think you are not quite accepting the curent litterary directions. As a postmodernist, Auster is brilliant, and if you have ever read Eugene Ionesco, or any other "absurdist" authors, you will not find it very hard to like him.
In other ways, The New York Trilogy is not about nothing. It's quite an interesting view over the meaning of words, and their relationship with the I. You could even call it a psychoanalytical novel. If you don't like it, don't read it, because your tastes have no meaning in judging "in se".
sorry my bad english, i'm not anglo-saxon.




message 17: by Scotts (new) - added it

Scotts At first I wasn't sure what to think of your violent review. A friend, with whom I share many book interests, is looking forward to reading it. Then I read Salavin's review.
Now I am certain you must be right.
Thanks for the warning!


message 18: by Aras (new) - added it

Aras "..they don't make brain bleach strong enough to cleanse the mind of your particular kind of preening, navel-gazing idiocy."

Now that's what I call a review!


James I don't know from all the "emptiness of life" to which you refer. I think that _City of Glass_ makes its intentions pretty clear: it has some fun with the noir thriller by comparing the pulp detective's life with the pulp author's life.

You can't seriously mean that you saw the Quixote thing as Auster's attempt to assert himself as a modern-day Cervantes. Or do you also get indignant at mimes for trying to trick you into thinking there's an invisible box on the sidewalk?


message 20: by Eric_W (last edited Sep 16, 2009 05:40AM) (new)

Eric_W Inkhornistically beautiful, David. I am going to frame this phrase: " and the overweening, solipsistic, drivel that apparently passes for writing in your particular omphaloskeptic corner of the pseudo-intellectual forest in which you live, churning out your mentally masturbatory little turdlets."


message 21: by Adam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Adam interesting, I am filled with a similar loathing for your insubstantial garbage heap of a review.


message 22: by Declan (new)

Declan I agree with Adam. I don't even care that your review was laughably immature (it reminded me of my 14 year old self, who I dislike even more than my current self). It was simply empty. You didn't say once WHY you didn't like the book. You touch upon something in your third paragraph, but it's really more of a slightly less vague insult.

You mention that you think his writing is empty? I giggled when I read that. Like I said, you didn't actually say anything of content. It reads like nothing but a feel-good rant, kind of like...well, you can guess. From the way you're describing him, I'm surprised you're not a bigger fan. Your review was scarily similar to all the things you seem to hate about him.

Anyway, regarding the actual book: I'm not an Auster nut at all, and I don't worship the book. But I still think it's very decent, and worth reading. It made me think and I enjoyed reading it the whole way through. Like most people will point out, the book isn't a reaction to the world, it's a reaction to literature.


message 23: by David (new) - added it

David @Declan: Please spare me the ad hominem condescension of your drive-by sneering.

"it reminded me of my 14 year old self, who I dislike even more than my current self"

I dunno. I think your current self manages to be plenty obnoxious. And since you appear to have missed the point when you read my review (or did you even read it?), here again, for the record, is why I didn't like this book:

"The intellectual vacuum at the core of Auster's fictions is finally nothing more than that - empty of content, devoid of meaning, surrounded with enough of the pomo trappings to keep the unwary reader distracted. But, if you're looking for meaning in your fiction, for God's sake look elsewhere."

In other words, all style, no substance. Now, please go and find someone else to annoy.

@Adam. Just go away, would you? Your village is missing its idiot.


message 24: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Love your review, Mr Giltinan.
I actually liked the trilogy (I read it back in the late 80's), but have liked nothing of Auster's since and have given up on him.

Ah...he does have one good book, it's his first I think, and it's nonfiction (memoir): 'The Invention of Solitude.'


message 25: by Jake (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jake Soiffer oh man. this review is so condescending, snobbish, and pseudo-intellectual...it's incredible that you accuse Paul Auster of these attributes! I've met him - trust me, he doesn't think he's smarter than his readers. I also feel like you didn't really get the themes of the trilogy, at all. If you hate him so much, stop reading his books and posting nasty, time-wasting reviews about them.
On the other hand, I didn't like the New York Trilogy that much. The first book was great, the second ok, and the third pretty lame. Your review managed to be less informative and pleasant to read than any section of these texts - congratulations?


message 26: by David (new) - added it

David Dear Jake:

Please see my comments to your intellectual brethren Declan and Adam above. Go sneer at someone else.

My apologies for the 5 minutes you probably "wasted" reading this response to your nastiness.

Thanks,

David


message 27: by Jessica (new)

Jessica What's with this new cover?

It's looks like they're trying to make some sort of 9/11 connection for a book that was written in the 1980's...


message 28: by Sketchbook (new)

Sketchbook Jessica, you're right! They dumped Art Spiegelman for this 9/11 fraud.


message 29: by Jake (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jake Soiffer oh man.
so much unnecessary negativity, right from the start. I'm not trying to start a sneering war here, man, don't worry. I'd be fine if you just said why you didn't like a book in a straight-forward, constructive manner, and moved on. What I'm taking an issue with is the extent to which you personally shit on the author (and his readers!) just for writing a book that you didn't like.
No offense, but it really does read like the rant of a 14-year-old. And don't tell me who are and are not my "intellectual brethren." Thanks.


Terry Pearce David I'm interested. Please read this straight up. No sarcasm, no snark:

What about people who like Paul Auster? Who enjoyed this trilogy? Are we idiots? Are we just naive, taken in by this charlatan? Or are we poor judges of what makes good storytelling, of how the words on Auster's pages talk to us about our experience of life?

I'm interested, because your review doesn't seem to leave any space for this. It doesn't leave any space for Auster being an honest scribe who is writing something that means something to him, to the best of his ability, and that speaks to us, but just happens to leave you cold. Are you just much more intelligent than us? More perceptive? Less gullible?

Or, if you think about it, is there maybe some room in there somewhere for taste? For subjectivity? Understand me, I'm not questioning your right to criticise the work. To detest it, even. But my ultimate question is this: what harm to do that from a place that acknowledges that it's your opinion, rather than laying claim to some objective truth about Auster's work and person, and painting anyone who might have the temerity to disagree into a corner with a dunce's cap on?


message 31: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian I really feel your review needed another four adjectives for every wanky self-congratulatory sneer given (oh. look. children can do it.), and then continue to issue for every comment pointing to this. You are a good person. Like, so good. I haven't even read the book and just about to start and goddamn it's going to be Christmas all up in.

Please, please, please burn me back. It will absolutely ruin my life.


message 32: by David (new) - added it

David Damn. As these last several comments point out, my review was kind of unnecessarily ... hostile. To the point that I am now a little bit embarrassed, not to say, ashamed.
To be honest, I'm not sure what was going on in my life when I wrote it. I obviously got quite carried away with my own hyperbole and bile.
So, let me just admit here that my earlier review was obnoxious, and that - of course - there is room for other reactions to Auster and his work. Something that I normally try to remember, even when reviewing books that I really didn't enjoy.
In considering whether or not to temper my earlier review, I have decided to leave it as is (otherwise, the subsequent discussion makes little sense). I have instead added a comment, pointing to this comment.
Thanks to those who called me on this review. I could have, and should have, done better.


Terry Pearce David, I applaud you. That was big. On the internet, it's easy to ignore anyone who calls you on anything, and stay entrenched in defensiveness. Fronting up like that takes guts. Kudos.


James Terry +1


message 35: by David (new) - added it

David Thanks, Terry & James.


message 36: by Zee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zee David, you sure know how to provoke a reader! lol. For the record, I found this book hard to get into too. I'm not gonna lie and say how FABULOUS Auster is, (he is, but not in this book) because there was definitely something missing at the core of this book. I've comwe to accept that some people enjoyed that gap for the sheer disturbing thrill it gave them, but it really annoyed the 'turdlets' out of me.

But I have to say, that was some EPIC review! I've never read a more scathing bollocking of a novel yet. You're like me, very verbose when angry!! Here, you deserve a medal *mwahaha*

p.s. No one has emulated Borges yet. It's quite possible that the man was Metatron incarnate...


message 37: by Jake (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jake Soiffer yay David! it's heartening to see integrity like yours on the internet - sorry I didn't see this until now.


Thomas Wong When I found the first edition at Shakespeare & Co I was ecstatic. I get what you're saying, but I think you're wrong. You basically set up a straw man of a story and then knocked Auster for not following it.


message 39: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Thomas: see message 32 by David.


message 40: by Ginger (new)

Ginger Thank You so much, for your honesty. I have only read the first chapter and thought it was so narcissistic and degrading at the same time... ! Why would anyone really want to read this crap! Not going to read any further, and don't know if I will post anything on my own site. Bravo for your initial honesty and then listening to everyone who hassled you. I really enjoy these reviews for this exact reason, we can say what we think without interruption and then everyone has a chance to either agree or disagree and it's always enlightening. Bottom line for me, I read Timbukto and hated it, read the first chapter of this and hated it... it's not just me.


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