Spezialgebiet in Englisch von Simon Essl
- „The Music of Chance“
- „City of Glass“
Paul Benjamin Auster was born February 3, 1947 in New Jersey. He is a Brooklyn-based author known for works blending absurdism and crime fiction, such as „The New York Trilogy“ (1987), „Moon Palace“ (1989) and „The Brooklyn Follies“ (2005).
Paul Auster was born in Newark, New Jersey, to Jewish middle class parents of Polish descent Samuel and Queenie Auster. He grew up in South Orange, New Jersey and graduated from Columbia High School in adjoining Maplewood. After graduating from Columbia University in 1970, he moved to Paris, France where he earned a living translating French literature.
Since returning to the U.S. in 1974, he has published poems, essays, novels of his own as well as translations of French writers such as Stéphane Mallarmé and Joseph Joubert. Auster also studied at Harvard University.
He married his second wife, writer Siri Hustvedt, in 1981, and they live together in Brooklyn. Together they have one daughter, Sophie Auster. Previously, Auster was married to the acclaimed writer Lydia Davis. They had one son together, Daniel Auster, who was loosely involved with Michael Alig and his „Club Kids“. He is also the Vice-President of PEN American Center.
Following his acclaimed debut work, a memoir entitled „The Invention of Solitude“, Auster gained renown for a series of three loosely-connected detective stories published collectively as „The New York Trilogy“. These books are not conventional detective stories organized around a mystery and a series of clues. Rather, he uses the detective form to address existential issues and questions of identity, space, language and literature, creating his own distinctively postmodern (and critique of postmodernist) form in the process.
The search for identity and personal meaning has permeated Auster’s later publications, many of which concentrate heavily on the role of coincidence and random events („The Music of Chance“) or increasingly, the relationships between men and their peers and environment („The Book of Illusions“, „Moon Palace“). Auster’s heroes often find themselves obliged to work as part of someone else’s inscrutable and larger-than-life schemes. In 1995, Auster wrote and co-directed the films „Smoke“ (which won him the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay) and „Blue in the Face“. Auster’s more recent works, „Oracle Night“ (2004), „The Brooklyn Follies“ (2005) and the novella „Travels in the Scriptorium“ have also met critical acclaim.
„Timbuktu“ is a story told from a dog‘s point of view. The dog, named Mr. Bones, lived with his master Willy since his puppyhood. Willy is a poet, a freak and soon in his life a homeless. The book starts with the approaching end of Willy‘s life – and the dog knows it. Soon this foreboding gets reality and Mr. Bones is all alone after traveling around with his beloved master his whole life long.
Mr. Bones is an extraordinary smart dog. He understands the human language almost perfectly, even the odd talking of his old master, and would have no problems to speak himself if the physical conditions would be there.
The book start with Willy‘s and Mr. Bones‘ last hours together, while they‘re on the way to Willy‘s former english teacher. The dog is in thoughts as they walk through Baltimore and piece after piece the reader gets to know Willy‘s past, presence and their previous life together. That part of the book is written in no particular order, but like a puzzle the picture gets more and more complete and soon you know Willy‘s and Mr. Bones‘ story with a lot of details.
Willy‘s family are Jews from Poland and they fled Europe during World War II. They began a hard life in Brooklyn and some time later Willy was born. He grew up as a „normal“ Brooklyn-kid, who was always ashamed for his strange parents. His father died when he was twelve, but he didn‘t feel really sorry. After destroying his future at college with excessive consumption of drugs he returned to his mother‘s flat in Brooklyn and started with alcohol. But then, one night, Willy had a vision that changed his life.
Santa Claus appeared on the TV-screen and started talking to him. He opened Willy‘s eyes and soon Willy recognized that Christmas was real and that his mission in life was from now on to spread the message of love, the message of Christmas. He started a wandering life and from times to times he returned to his mother. But after some unpleasant experiences while sleeping alone outside, he knew he needed a protector and so he got Mr. Bones. When the dog was old enough they started a nomad life together, just returning sometimes to Willy‘s mother in winter.
After a long walk from Brooklyn to Baltimore they don‘t reach Bea Swanson‘s, the english teacher‘s, house, but they find the old house of his grandpa. Willy sits down has a last talk with his beloved dog. It goes on for over ten pages and Willy tells the dogs last details out of his life and shares his last wisdom with him. It‘s a very strange „conversation“. Willy keeps on repeating things he can remember from his past, odd names or things, words in different languages and all wrapped up in long, poetic sentences in which Willy regrets his failures.
After that monologue they both fall asleep and the dog experiences the death of his master in his dream, which is also the reality. He sees how policemen find Willy and call the ambulance. Mr. Bones splits into a fly and a dog and the fly follows the ambulance to the hospital. There, he witnesses the last conversations between Willy and Bea Swanson and the next morning he dies.
After his master‘s death the dog starts to mourn. On one hand he feels a deep emptiness, like every human being would, but he‘s also sad about his own disadvantages and how hard life will be from now on. He not only missing his master, he‘s particularly missing the comforts this person brought to him. Now he has to experience a life on his own for the very first time. There a many problems to solve: How to get food, where to sleep and how to know who is an enemy and who not.
After some demoralizing experiences, Mr. Bones meets Henry Chow, who immediately takes him home. They become good friends, but Henry‘s father, the owner if a Chinese restaurant, can‘t stand dogs and so Henry is forced to hide Mr. Bones. It works out for some time, but after a month it happens: He is discovered and has to flee. In panic of the Chinese, who, according to Willy, eat dogs, he runs for days until he breaks down exhausted. Soon after that, he strikes it lucky again and comes to family Jones.
They spoil him with all their effort, except for Dick, the lord of the house. He‘s very happy there and soon he finds out that he‘s even happier than with Willy. There‘s always enough food, rides in the family car and an ordinary life in the outskirts.
But one day it happens: The family goes on vacation and Mr. Bones is put in a „dog hotel“. He gets very sick, but he makes a plan and flees from the hotel back to the Jones‘ house. But in his condition he doesn‘t get very far and passes out. After waking up, every movement hurts, but he makes is to the nearby highway. Originally, he wanted to get help there, but in the end he decides to join Willy, who assured him that they will be together in heaven, and so he plays „dodge the car“…
One vision of Willy, that accompanies the reader through the whole book, is the idea of Timbuktu, the place you come to when you die. Bit by bit Mr. Bones builds his own imagination of Timbuktu, a place where dogs can talk with men and everything is eternal. This idea is often confirmed, but sometimes also denied in Mr. Bones‘ numerous dreams about Willy after his death. Sometimes he dreams about him and Willy in places they have been and they‘re talking to each other as if it would be the most natural thing in the world. These dreams often encourage Mr. Bones to change his mind and to keep on going. But in the night of his terrible sickness he dreams about an evil and sarcastic Willy who destroys all his dreams of Timbuktu and Mr. Bones takes that dead-serious, but he manages to forgive his master. In the next dream Willy apologizes and tells him that their future together is certain and so Mr. Bones starts to think about joining Willy.
„The Music of Chance“
„The Music of Chance“ is a story about a man who leaves his former life behind and starts to live on the road. His name is Jim Nashe. After traveling around for almost a year he picks up the young Jack Pozzi, a hitchhiking gambler, who tells him about a special poker game with two eccentric millionaires, Flower and Stone. Seeing the chance to increase his slipping budget, he sponsors ten thousand dollars for this game to let the kid expand this sum.
Nashe has traveled through America in his car for one whole year and he is thinking back about the events that brought him to this point. The events and circumstances are told in chronological order with soft transitions to the next incident. The reader gets a short maintenance history with plain explanations and reasons why he did things, without a lot of feelings and a dry tone.
After his wife left him, Nashe can‘t take care of his little daughter Juliette anymore. With his full-time job in the fire department he thinks it is the best solution to give Juliette to his sister in Minnesota. But then he suddenly inherits almost two hundred thousand dollars from his missing father, who died of cancer. He had never seen his father consciously, because he left the family when Nashe was two. With all that money, Nashe buys the car of his dreams and goes on his first vacation since four years.
After that, he decides to visit his sister‘s family in Minnesota. His plan was to take Juliette back to Boston with him and to start a new life, without his wife, but with enough money to pay someone to look after his daughter. But after having been away for almost half a year, he realizes it would be much better for Juliette to stay with his sister‘s family. Juliette hardly recognizes him after he had been just a voice on the telephone for almost six months and so he comes to the decision to leave her in his sister‘s rock-solid family with the other kids and to go back to Boston alone.
As he wants to go back to Massachusetts, Nashe suddenly realizes that he is traveling in the wrong direction, but strangely he doesn‘t care. After recognizing that he was totally free and for the next two weeks he starts to drive around without a destination and soon he finds pleasure in it and continues, sleeping in motels and getting back on the road next morning.
The freedom of Nashe is striking. He can do whatever he wants, he can go wherever he likes, without any duties to exercise or things to worry about. Just listening to music while you drive, enjoying the landscape and let your thoughts just flow, Nashe feels calm and satisfied. Carefree, without any appointments or people who want things from you, without having to care about anyone or anything he lives completely in accord with himself.
The way this life of Nashe is described fits perfectly to what is described. The reader can turn the pages quickly, following the events that happen while Nashe drives and getting descriptions of how Nashe thinks about his new way of living. It goes on like this for some time, but then Nashe slowly becomes aware of the limit that is set to him: The money. He never had to take care of anything before, but after almost a year on the road he realizes how expensive a life without any earnings is. At the beginning he tries not to think about it and spend less money, but he knows that sooner or later it will be over. Nashe tries not to be pushed into a panic, but he senses that one or two months later everything will be over.
At that point he suddenly meets the young Jack Pozzi. The young man was just beaten up by some people he played Poker with and tried to get away from them as fast as he could. He walks along a country road, covered with welts and bruises, when Nashe sees him. Instinctively he knows that this young man needs help and without thinking about it he asks Pozzi if he wants to get into the car.
At the beginning, Pozzi seems to be mute, collapsing at the moment he touches the seat, but after some time and a coffee he starts to talk. The way the two men talk is pretty much similar, both with a lot of familiar words and casual expressions. They get along very well, talking like they‘ve been best friends since their childhood. When you read on, you think they might have some kind of affinity. Both of them use these nice sentences that come out of your mouth very easily, always with a little bit of sarcasm and always with the knowledge what to say next to keep the conversation superficial and easy-going. They understand each other from the very beginning and after the first page of conversation between them and it‘s pretty clear they‘re going to be friends.
Nashe takes Pozzi with him to New York and on their way, Pozzi tells Nashe about his awesome poker-skills, about the story that brought him to this point and finally about that special game of poker he needs ten thousand dollars for. Nashe is interested immediately and sees his chance to get out of his crisis with the money. The kid is absolutely sure about his victory and after listening a while to Pozzi‘s stories about how he could beat the two millionaires if he had the money, Nashe finally proposes a risky deal to Pozzi: Jack will get his ten thousand dollars for the game and whatever he wins will be split in the half, one half for Pozzi and one for Nashe. The kid agrees and in New York they start to prepare everything for the big night.
They spend a day in New York together, coddling Pozzi up again. Nashe buys him a new outfit and tries to provide Jack with everything he needs. Nashe starts to feel some kind of protective instinct towards Pozzi, as he tells him some stories out of his life. He finds out that there are many similarities between his life and Pozzi‘s life: They both grew up without a father and when they were older they both received a big amount of money that changed their lives forever. Little by little they become more than just strangers who get along, first colleague, then friends. Nashe doesn‘t like it, but he knows he has to test Pozzi‘s skills, and so they play some games of poker in the evening. Nashe is a good player, but Pozzi blows him away with his abilities. With an unbreakable certainty to win the game, they take off to the house of Flower and Stones.
Between all these events there are always the philosophical thoughts of Nashe, full of metaphors and descriptions of how he deals with the situations and what he thinks about the things he‘s doing. Nashe often observes his brain and his feelings as he would be an outsider, and he is fully aware of what is going on in his head. The reader learns a lot about Nashe‘s insecurities and his changes of feelings, everything wrapped up in Auster‘s typical rich but clear and intelligent language. It‘s interesting to watch that man who had a very simple life for almost a year and who now starts to think again about his actions and feelings. Now he has a responsibility again and he‘s taking a risk.
After a long drive they finally find the house of Flower and Stone. The gardener opens the doors for them and they meet Flower and Stones, two friends who live together since they won the lottery. The millionaires show them their house, which is a huge palace-like building, separated into Flower‘s and Stones‘s part. Nashe is especially fascinated by „The city of the world“, a model of an imaginary city Stone is building since over ten years. In the evening the four men start the big game. Nashe doesn‘t play himself, he just tries to support Pozzi and watch out for eventual dangers.
At the beginning the game is going on normally, without a lot of events, but with the steady growing of Jack and Pozzi‘s money. After hours of a well-running game Nashe hears the call of the nature and leaves the room. He planned to return immediately, but suddenly an idea changes his mind and he sneaks up to Stone‘s room to look at the „City of the world“ again. He spends over an hour up there, admiring every detail of the impressing model. With a good feeling he returns to the game again, curious how much money Pozzi had won since he left.
But it turns out that things have changed during his absence. The pile of coins in front of Pozzi has shrunk dangerously and the look on his face turned from „I‘m gonna win“ to „Oh my god“. Nashe is shocked about the situation, but he keeps telling himself that this is a good sign and Pozzi will change the situation again soon.
That never happens. Nashe, who sees the end of their budget, places his remaining private money and his car. But it doesn‘t help and the chips keep on disappearing. At the end, Pozzi risks everything… and loses. Desperately acknowledging that they can‘t go anywhere without any money and without the car, Nashe proposes to Flower to cut for his car. If he lost, he would owe Flower ten thousand dollars.
And he loses again. Everybody is at the end of his nerves, and Nashe and Jack just want to leave. But the millionaires won‘t let them get away with a debt of ten thousand dollars. After some arguing, they come up with an idea: Nashe and Pozzi will build a wall of ten thousand stones for them, and after having worked for fifty days the debt will be payed off.
Nashe welcomes the idea, he needs a change in his life and a target after driving around for over a year without any plan. Pozzi wants to leave at first, but his conscience lets him stay with Nashe. They get to know Murks, the gardener, who shows them the trailer where they are going to live for the next two months. The trailer is located in a huge meadow where the stones are sitting too. Murks instructs them what to do and the next day, they start to work. In the beginning the work is not very hard and they spend their days with preparations for the actual wall. After the work is done they can relax in the trailer, read books or listen to music.
But besides all the simplicity of their lives and the comfort of having nothing to care for Nashe and Pozzi start to notice a strange feeling of being caged. They are not allowed to use the jeep to move the stones and the gardener Murks is always with them, watching every step they take. Out of this they develop an awkward relationship towards Murks, who, on one hand, does everything to make them feel comfortable, but on the other supervises them with all his mistrust.
Auster describes these circumstances with his usual rich vocabulary, making it absolutely clear how the two man feel and what makes them do things. The descriptions are always precisely observing and show you what is going on in an easy way, alternating between a listing what happens at the moment and a description what is going on in Nashe‘s head. The writing is again similar to the way the men talk: With a lot of sentences that fit exactly into the next one and a lot of reasonable and authentic expressions. Everything is told in a light, but dry tone, easily to read and with nice sentences and paragraphs, but for the reader there is again this feeling of a dark shadow that is hanging over the story, a cloud that will produce rain, sooner or later.
With every page, Auster offers more details and new little turns that make the narration interesting. There is a progress going on, on one hand a development of a wall, on the other the development of two men, who always lived a life without a target and who now have something to create, if they like it or not.
After over two months the day the debt is payed off is in sight. Pozzi wants to celebrate their escape from the meadow and so he „orders“ everything for a party from Murks, alcohol, finest food and a girl, thinking that these things are „included“. On their last day in the meadow they work as hard as never before and celebrate their success in the evening. Pozzi has a lot of fun with the girl, and she also seems to be attracted to him. The next day, Pozzi and Nashe want to work on to earn some more money for their way home, but Murks presents them a bill for all the things they consumed in the last months and so it comes down that they have to pay off another debt.
Pozzi can‘t stand this thought and so he decides to leave. He and Nashe dig a hole under the fence that surrounds the estate and at night Pozzi disappears, leaving Nashe alone with the debt. But the next day he finds Pozzi completely beaten up in front of the trailer, barely alive. Murks arrives and they decide to take Pozzi to the hospital. As Nashe wants to get on the jeep too, the son-in-law of Murks, who joined them, throws him to the ground and they take Pozzi away, without him.
The next days Nashe grows an incredible hate for Murks, he is sure he did that to Pozzi. Nashe suddenly understands the strange behavior of Murks: They are not free as long as the debt isn‘t payed off and Murks will do everything to keep them working for Flower and Stones. The millionaires in person don‘t show their faces one time and Nashe begins to get more and more desperate. He has strange dreams and he starts to get obsesses with the thought that Murks killed Pozzi. During the day he tries to work as quiet as he can, not attracting any attention, but inside he feels like he wants to kill Murks. Living with the constant fear that Murks could kill him too lets him build up an incredible rage. The life on the meadow is no longer simple, his mistrust towards Murks is huge and Nashe drives himself into a complete paranoia. One day, Murks brings his little grandson to the meadow and Nashe‘s hate starts to concentrate on the little boy. He starts to develop fantasies how he could kill the child and his obsession grows every day the boy is with him.
All these terrible feelings are covered with an awful sadness about Pozzi‘s eventual death. Nashe just works like a machine and finds no more pleasure in books or music. He misses the kid a lot, thinking of him all day and making plans how he could revenge him. Murks keeps telling him that Pozzi is in hospital, but Nashe is sure that Pozzi is dead. After a while, he can‘t stand the uncertainty anymore and he tells Murks to bring the girl to the trailer again. Nashe tells the girl about the situation and because she liked Pozzi a lot, she promises to write a letter to Nashe when she found out more about Pozzi‘s situation.
The letter does not come, but Nashe tries not to despair and to bear it until the end. On his birthday Nashe finally manages to get back to point zero. The debt is payed off and Murks and Floyd invite him for a drink in the evening, a drink in freedom. Even if he despises the two men, he decides to go with them. They have some drinks at a local bar, but soon they want to go back. Nashe asks Murks if he could drive and Murks agrees. Nashe gets into he driver‘s seat and suddenly the old feeling to be on the road comes back to him. He starts to drive faster and faster, enjoying the feeling with all his senses, not hearing the screams of Murks and Floyd. When he sees the headlight, it‘s already too late, and instead of slamming his foot on the brakes, he presses down the gas and closes his eyes…
„The music of chance“ is a story about two different men, Nashe who calmly waits for what is coming and the spirited Pozzi who always wants to do something to change his situation. They both got into their current situation because of a big amount of money and they both thought they could live an easy life now.
It‘s a story about the fact that life is a chain of happenstances, but that there is also some kind of destiny and some parts you can control by yourself. It‘s about friendship, bad and good luck, responsibility and the fact that life is never simple, no matter how simple your mission seems to be.
The story also appears to be a criticism of America, a critical look on the people that try live a fast and simple life, dominated by money. This book shows that nobody can have a life like this, without duties or things to worry about. It‘s not possible to survive completely on your own, with nobody and nothing around you can‘t control. There will always be situations and people you have to deal with, things that will disturb you perfectly simple life, things that will make you feel, in a positive or a negative way.
„City of Glass“
„City of Glass“ is a story about a lonely man named Quinn, who is a writer of detective stories. In the middle of the night he receives a strange phone call and someone on the other end asks him for help in a criminal case. The person who called believes that Quinn is a detective named Paul Auster and wants to meet him. After the third call, Quinn decides to take Auster‘s identity and goes to the meeting as a man he isn‘t. And so he gets involved into a case that can‘t be more confusing and puzzling.
The book starts with a description of Quinn. He is thirty-five years old and had once a wife and a son, who are both dead now. Quinn is a writer of mystery novels, which he publishes under the name „William Wilson“, because he doesn‘t want to be recognized. His favorite activity is walking through the streets of New York, where he lives. He sometimes takes strolls for hours, without any target or a specific direction.
After that short introduction of Quinn, the book starts right off with this particular phone call. In fact, the first phone call means almost nothing, because Quinn tells the caller that he isn‘t Auster and hangs up. But the alarmed strange voice on the other end makes him curious. The voice talked about „a case of utmost urgency“ and that „time is running out“. The second call comes when he is on the toilet. He lets the telephone ring and ring and when he finally gets to answer it, the caller has already hung up. Quinn gets really interested now and starts to look forward to the third call. He wait for days and one evening, when he didn‘t expect the person to call again, the telephone rings and he arranges an encounter.
These events are told in short, but precise paragraphs, with an exact description of what is going on, but without any additional information about how the person feels and thinks. These alter with characterizations of Quinn, that try to explain his personality with flashbacks to the past, explanations why Quinn likes or dislikes particular things and examples how Quinn acted in certain situations.
The reader gets a quite sharp picture of Quinn soon. He is an eccentric, lonely man, who has lost his wife and son and finds it hard now to find pleasure in life again. All the things he likes, he does alone, like reading history books or taking walks through the city. Writing detective novels is the only thing he can do for a living, and it is almost the only thing he actually does. He seems like a quite intelligent man who lives a life that is just regulated by himself. He decides when to get out of bed and start to work, he decides when he can stand up from work and take a walk and he decides when it‘s time to stop working and go to bed again, and nobody and nothing tells him to follow certain times.
The next day he goes to the address given to him to meet the person who called. A beautiful woman opens the door and leads him to her husband, Peter Stillman. He was the one who called Quinn at night. Peter is a young man with white-blond hair, who moves as if this activity needs all his attention. He starts to speak to Quinn and it sounds as if he had to learn every sentence by heart. Something about his talk makes him appear like an authistic person. He tells Quinn that he shouldn‘t ask questions, because it‘s hard to answer for him and then he begins to tell his story, for hours, without a pause.
Peter was the victim of a terrible crime. His father locked him into a dark room after his birth and never spoke a word to him or let him out. He wanted to find out if the child would begin to talk the pure, pristine language of God if it never learns to speak. After nine years he was found. In his mind he was still a baby, he didn‘t learn a thing. He couldn‘t walk, couldn‘t eat and naturally couldn‘t talk. After years of therapy and living in the hospital, he is now able to talk with all his concentration, but with no understanding for the words he says. He learned his whole behavior much too late and he can‘t express himself like a healthy person, even though he is fully aware of his condition. Peter knows he has been the victim of something that can‘t be made undone and he knows that his brain doesn‘t work the way it should.
After Peter held his speech, Virginia Stillman tells Quinn the reason of his visit: Peter‘s father is about to be released from prison and Quinn should follow him from the train station home and watch him everyday, so he can‘t come back for Peter. Quinn, who is a shy person, begins to act like the main character in his novels, Max Work, a famous detective who is full of charm and cleverness. Bit by bit he gets obsessed with the idea to solve the case and protect Peter and becomes the detective the Stillmans want him to be…
By the way it is described, the reader can predict early that Quinn will exaggerate his new life with a fake identity. Firstly, he has fallen in love with Virginia and wants to impress her and secondly he gets excited about the thought to be more than just a writer of mystery novels. He wants to be part of them. As time goes on, Quinn gets deeper and deeper into the roles of Max Work and Paul Auster.
Quinn starts to work on the case immediately and visits the library to find out more about the history of cases like this. The father of Peter, Mr. Stillman, has even written a book about the „lost language“. Quinn studies many other stories about children that have been kept away from language to learn the „true“ language of God. In the bible, the history of Babel is, according to Stillman, the history of the fall of language. After that fall, words and the thing they described weren‘t interchangeable anymore and names became detached from things. He wanted to find out if his son would give the things again their appropriate names and so he committed this unbelievable crime.
The next day he waits for Stillman‘s train at Grand Central. His plan is to follow Stillman to his new residence and watch him everyday. To find out what Stillman looks like, Virginia gave Quinn a picture of him. But when the people got off from Stillman‘s train, he sees two people that look both exactly like the man on the picture. Quinn has to take a hard decision and follows the one that looked more like a bum than a former professor.
Quinn starts to constantly observe Stillman. Every morning he waits for the old man to come out of his hotel and follows him on his walks through the streets of New York. Because he is completely free with his working time, Quinn spends the whole day to shade Stillman. What the former professor does on his walks remains a secret to Quinn. He just walks around the city with no particular direction, his eyes constantly on the pavement and from time to time stopping and picking something up.
For weeks, he keeps following the old man. Auster turns this dull activity of the old man into an interesting process inside Quinn‘s brain. Full of doubt and constantly asking himself if all this had a sense, but with a strange satisfaction and a comfort to be Paul Auster now, Quinn walks behind the man, not knowing whether Stillman is aware of his presence. Always keeping in mind that he is doing all this for Virginia, he looks forward to their meetings to give her his report and maybe flirt a little bit.
After weeks without any results, he starts to draw Stillman‘s routes into his notebook and comes to a strange cognition: The movings of the old man add up the letters of the word „The tower of Babel“.
The next day he decides to talk to Stillman. He sits beside him and they start a random conversation between strangers. Stillman begins to tell him about the meanings of words and that they have been lost. They begin to have these philosophical discussions regularly, every time on a park bench and every time with Quinn having introduced himself as somebody else. The conversations are strange, you always feel that Stillman knows that Quinn is following him, but he always acts as if he had never seen Quinn before. Before their last conversation, Quinn introduced himself as Peter Stillman. Stillman treats him like his son in the following discussion and tells him more about the importance of language and that he is glad to see his son talking again.
Since the case had begun, the descriptions of Quinn‘s feelings and thoughts got rare. It is as if his mind is detached from his body now and that he acts like a completely different person with another soul. The story is told with a lot of chronological listings of what Quinn does and sometimes long conversations with Virginia or Stillman.
The next day after the conversation, Stillman is gone. Quinn asks in the hotel, but he had checked out. When he tells Virginia about it, she is totally scared and wants Quinn to protect Peter. Quinn is desperate too and to get an advice from a real detective, he visits Paul Auster. But Auster is no detective, he is just a writer. Quinn tells him the whole story, but Auster isn‘t angry that his name has been used. He invites Quinn in his flat and they talk a little about literature, but Auster can‘t do anything for him.
Quinn is totally finished. He knows nothing, he has nothing and he can‘t find Stillman to protect Peter from him. He is also unable to call Virginia, the number is always busy. So Quinn settles in opposite the house of the Stillmans and waits for Peter‘s father to come. He tries to eat and sleep the least possible to keep a constant eye on the house. For months he lives on the street opposite to the house and keeps waiting for Stillman. When his money runs out, he leaves his spot for the first time and tries to cash his checks from Virginia, but it doesn‘t work. He decides to go back to his apartment, but there is a young woman living in it and all his stuff is gone. With an incredible emptiness he returns to the house of the Stillmans and goes to the apartment. It‘s empty. Naked, dirty and with nothing to eat he lies on the floor there and sleeps. He wakes up and suddenly there is food standing besides him. He eats a little, writes something in his notebook and sleeps again. It goes on like this for many days, weeks or months, but nobody knows…
„The City of Glass“ is a typical book of Auster. Dark, strange and full of unexpected turns that make the story so special. It‘s about a man, who lives a life without a target, without any goals. Suddenly he gets the chance to change his identity, to change his whole life. He gets a mission, a way to break out of his misery and puts all his efforts in the case, no matter how senseless his activities might be. After the man he follows disappeared he still can‘t let go of the idea that he has to bring it to an end and drives himself into madness. He is obsessed with the thought to find Stillman, but he has lost his original object.
The story probably wants to say that we can‘t change our identity, that we‘ll always stay who we are and that a sudden turnabout is impossible. It‘s also about obsession, about the fact that when you want something so desperately, that you give your whole life up for it, you will never succeed, because you have nothing to come back to anymore, even when you have reached your target.
Paul Auster’s reappearing subjects are:
- Frequent portrayal of an ascetic life
- A sense of imminent disaster
- An obsessive writer as central character/narrator
- Loss of the ability to understand
- Loss of language
- Depiction of daily and ordinary life
- Absence of a father
- Writing/story telling
- American History
- American Space
Coincidence often determines the further destiny of the main character in Auster‘s stories. Sometimes these coincidences are very striking and hardly believable, but they always push the plot further and become a big part of the whole narration. In the end, they often make sense and the reader can reproduce their value for the development of the central character. Coincidence results often from the characters decision to change his life completely and start over new. At the beginning these coincidences often seem to be a great chance for the protagonist, but they often turn out to be his end.
The characters in Auster‘s books often become obsessive and chase their target without noticing their process of self-destruction. When they do, it is mostly too late.
Failure in Paul Auster’s works is not just the opposite of the happy ending. The often protagonists start a search for their own identity and reduce their life to the absolute minimum. From this zero point they gain new strength and start their new life and they are also able to get into contact with their environment again. This development can be seen in „City of Glass“ and „The Music of Chance“. Failure in this context is not the „nothing“ – it is the beginning of something all new. When the failure is too big, the character either dies or disappears. There are no compromises in Auster‘s books, the protagonist never has to suffer the consequences of his actions longer than the book lasts.
Auster‘s protagonists often give up their former life and detach from family, friends and job. This happens either before the book starts or at the beginning of the story. They start over new and begin to live a life without limits and duty, but also without social contacts. The characters search for a new direction to go, which seems to be a great chance at first, but often turns out to lead to an act of self-destruction and self-abandonment.
After the characters in Auster‘s stories acknowledge their wrong decision and their inability to return to their old life, they often abandon themselves. They either commit suicide or become dull creatures without a target in life.
- Paul Auster: Timbuktu, Picador 2000, ISBN: 978-0312263997
- Paul Auster: The Music of Chance, Faber and Faber 1991, ISBN: 978-0571165261
- Paul Auster: The New York Trilogy, Penguin Books 1990, ISBN: 978-0140131550