The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster: Book review

The New York TrilogyI don’t remember how I first found out about Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy – it just sort of stumbled onto my reading list. Which is appropriate, because this is one of the most mysterious and baffling books I ever read.

There’s no easy way to describe the Trilogy, which is sort-of-but-not-really a spoof of detective novels overlaid with a navel-gazing exploration of identity and what fiction is and how it intersects with reality. Sort of. But not really. The first instalment, City of Glass, follows a writer who assumes the identity of a private detective named Paul Auster (yeah) and becomes obsessed with tracking a creepy client’s even creepier father. Book two, Ghosts, is about another private eye, Blue, who also becomes obsessed with a case – watching a man called Black. And part three, The Locked Room, is about a writer who unwittingly takes over the life of a friend.

Reading the trilogy is kind of like watching Lost – for all that TV drama’s (many, many) flaws, at its best it summoned up a sense of foreboding mystery, that something dark and deep and important lurked below its surface. The Trilogy evokes that same feeling of ominous, “What the fuck is going here?” wonder. As everyone in the world knows, Lost failed (terribly, horribly failed) at tying it all up into something at the end. But The New York Trilogy succeeds, and it probably succeeds because it doesn’t attempt to boil everything down into a straight-forward explanation*. (“They’re all in the afterlife!”) It just presents a conclusion that is as oblique and utterly batshit as everything that came before it. You either buy it or you don’t; I bought it.

*In fairness to Lost, though, the Trilogy doesn’t have reams of characters who each need their own semblance of a farewell – which probably makes its opaque ending more palatable.


Book review: City of Fallen Angels, Cassandra Clare

It doesn’t feel right to call Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series “so bad it’s good”. It almost feels right. But – like the first season or so of Gossip Girl – while the books border on trashy, they’re smart, knowing trashy. Not so much “guilty pleasure” as “straight-up pleasure” – I’ve often recommended them as “Like Twilight, but good”.

So basically what happened is this: Clare wrote a trilogy of books (City of Bones, City of Ashes, then City of Glass) about the demon-killing Shadowhunters and their varied adventures and romantic entanglments. Trilogy becomes bestselling trilogy, and when you have a trilogy on your hands you do the sensible thing and extend it. Hence the fourquel City of Fallen Angels (which will be followed by two more sequels, comprising a second trilogy).

Which means Clare has to find more stuff for her heroes – including hunky Shadowhunter Jace Wayland/Morgenstern/Lightwood/Herondale/Whoevenknowsanymore, whose aforementioned hunkiness is endlessly purple-prosed at us; his girlfriend Clary; and her best pal Simon – to do.

And therein lies one of Fallen Angels‘ biggest problems: nothing really happens. The first three-quarters are mostly just melodramatic hand-wringing, with all the meat of the plot at the end.

Which wouldn’t be so bad if the melodrama wasn’t so forced. For example. We’re repeatedly reminded how passionately in love Jace and Clary are, yet their relationship is filled with vague problems-for-the-sake-of-problems. Sure, I get that conflict drives narratives and the course of true love never did run blah blah blah, but the couple’s impenetrable woes eventually become frustrating.

The bigger, unseen problem, though, is the book’s troubling subtext: three male characters (Jace, Simon and newcomer Kyle) physically hurt women, often greivously, and are forgiven because, basically, they weren’t themselves or weren’t in control of their actions at the time, and thus aren’t actually bad guys. This is… worrying, is the mildest way to term it, and I wonder how other readers reconcile it. (I’m guessing “easily”, given the number of rabid fangirls these books have.)

On the bright side, this is the best written Mortal Instruments entry so far (though not as good as in Clare’s spin-off, Clockwork Angel). The previous three books were marred by flat background characters, some of whom are fleshed out a little more in Fallen Angel.