It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.
Warning: there are major spoilers in the third paragraph of the next section. Further warning: I’ve let this post be mostly reactionary and say very little objectively about the book. Well, I did warn you this could happen.
A misleading cover for a non-standard detective story
I bought this book second-hand because I thought it would be a good ‘beach read’ – a classic pulp-style detective novel as promised by both the Penguin Classics edition cover and the blurb inside the front cover flap. This was not to be the case.
The book is in fact a much, much better, much cleverer and more intriguing work of literature than that. It’s postmodernly self-referential, to start with. The author appears as possibly two separate characters, one entirely fictional (Paul Auster the detective) and one potentially fictional (the character of Paul Auster the writer), both of whom heavily influence the trajectory of our protagonist Quinn as he gets embroiled in a life-or-death detective case in New York.
The problem is that I need to prepare myself for what I am about to read. Expecting a detective who will brilliantly deduce the bad guy’s identity and bring him to justice, instead I am presented with a character who descends into debilitating depression and madness and not only fails to solve the case but also proves incapable of coping with his own existence. Extended essay-style tracts exploring the role of author as character in literature going back to Don Quixote also have the shine taken off them somewhat when all you wanted was something Agatha-Christiesque to complement the bubbles in your bath.
It’s good; it’s intriguing; it does have a solid story to pull you along; it is brilliant. But I wish I’d been told more about what to expect in the publisher’s blurb on the cover. Then, I may have saved it to read in bright daylight during a long morning inter-city train trip, when I was feeling like being taken on a challenging intellectual journey. I will save the next two novels in this trilogy for when I’m next in such a mood.
This book was mostly read in the (new) bath late at night.