If you have to read Paul Aster, read his New York Trilogy, was the advise I received from many friends, and here I am. Probably I should have been elated of getting into the writing of another fabulous writer, but not entirely so. I am some what cold shouldered at the end of reading, not because the book wasn't good. The writing and styling is very good, the structure and the story telling is also decent. I did like the last of the stories very well. However, something was missing for me. I know I shouldn't read it like any investigative thriller, nor as a mystery fiction as in the typical genre books. There as literary references, and probably styling around the previous generation of writers. There is also a clever ploy of bringing in a character called Paul Aster, the detective and not the writer narrator, as a character in one of the story. This also leaves a very noir-film like experience in the end.
The first one, where a detective novel writer, intrigued by a misplaced call ( wrong number dialled for Paul Aster the private detective) , trapped into a never ending chain of events taking him into the brink of madness. There is a lot of character interplay. Daniel Quinn, imposter as Paul Aster the detective, who in his earlier life ( a poet of par excellence, quit serious writing after the death of his wife and son), takes up the role of the detective, observing the movements of Peter Stillmann the senior, on behalf of the fiancee of Peter Stilmann the junior. In the turn of the events, he meet Paul Aster the writer, not the detective as the caller on the phone mentioned.
Ghost, the second story is again on a 'private eye' Blue, working for Brown, asked to investigate a man called Black , for their client White (and the place/ street is Orange, a gimmick very confusing at the start and boring as it progresses ). Writing his report periodically for Brown for which White is expected to pay. As in the case of the previous tale, the line of sensibility is lost and the frustration and monotonous profile of the job is enough for him to loose his restrain and make him confront Black, his target.
The Locked room, ( reference to the old styled 'locked room mystery'), is about a writer, work on the creative out put of his friend, who went missing. He not only publishes the works of his friend, but replaces him in the family, falling in love with his wife and moving in with her. The situation turns bad after he was entrusted to write the biography of his friend, now a literary sensation after the publication of his works. Confronted with the reality of his ineffectiveness as a writer, the uneasiness of the reference of his name with the wife adds to the difficulties. The potential threat of the return, the anonymous letters, the eventual rendezvous ( not in the real sense), adds to the final twist of the tale.
I am probably missing some thing here. There must be some connect , however subtle, between these stories. Also, there must be some thing about the New York as a city in the settings. This is not a typical detective story, but mostly on observation of the observer; the pursuer and not the pursued. In all of these stories, the protagonist, some what trapped in his own choices and circumstances, unable to shackle free, making decisions of of helplessness and frustration, taking them to a level of mental break down. It is also looks at writing and writing process, as every one of the stories are about writing as well. I am not sure if this has anything to do with the post modernist writing ( probably its too old already) with its deep condescending of outwardly trivial plots and subjects. Also, we can see a lot of playfulness of Aster as a writer, with the complex structural exposition, the jumbling up of names, the tricky use of color as name. One can understand the playful mood of the writer with all these intricacies which can leave him with high creative satisfaction, and how much of it is parted to the reader, is probably a different story. Having said that, I will , in all possibility, go back to the book again and see if I can spot any missing points.
The New York Trilogy (1985/86/87)
Faber & Faber
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