New York Trilogy (Faber Classics)

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9780571152230: New York Trilogy (Faber Classics)

Paul Auster's three stories explore the nature of identity. He uses the detective, spy and friendship genres as vehicles to delve into the relationships between different groups of people.

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About the Author:

Paul Auster was born in New Jersey in the United States in 1947. He graduated from Columbia University with an MA degree. After travelling extensively for 4 years, Auster returned to New York in 1974 and began his career as a writer. Throughout the 1970s he wrote mainly poetry and essays which appeared in various magazines including the New York Review of Books. During the 1980s he concentrated on prose writing: a memoir and four novels were published. His screenplay, Smoke and Blue in the Face was published in April 1996 to coincide with the release of the film, and in 1999 Faber published the screenplayLulu on the Bridge. The Art of Hunger (a collection of essays, interviews and prose) and his Selected Poems were published in November 1998. He is the author of ten novels, including The New York Trilogy and The Brooklyn Follies (2005).

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Praise from Around the World for
The New York Trilogy

“By turning the mystery novel inside out, Auster may have initiated a whole new round of storytelling.”

—The Village Voice (USA)

“In his vivid modern New York the energies of literary creation are brought vitally alive, in a great American tradition.”

—The Sunday Times (England)

“A stunning, hypnotic book...Auster’s virtuosic storytelling achieves a tone at once passionate and detached, and the result is as curious as it is convincing.”

—The Glasgow Herald (Scotland)

“One of the great revelations of American literature in recent years...Auster has talent to burn.”

—L’Express (France)

“Paul Auster is a writer of rare intensity.”

—El Correo Gallego (Spain)

“A breathtakingly intense and nerve-wracking book, a game of life and death...This is strong stuff—hold onto your seats.”

—Elstra Bladet (Denmark)

“Paul Auster’s taut and remarkable prose works have enriched the American literary tradition.”

—De Groene Amsterdammer (Holland)

“Auster is one of the most inventive writers of his generation.”

—Corriere della Sera (Italy)

“Paul Auster has written a sublime and clear-as-glass book, a book of almost frightening transparency and openness, a crystal that refracts light into colors that have rarely been seen before.”

—Jan Kjaerstad (Norway)

THE NEW YORK TRILOGY

PAUL AUSTER is the author of the novels The Brooklyn Follies, Oracle Night, The Book of Illusions, Timbuktu, Mr. Vertigo, Leviathan (awarded the 1993 Prix Medicis Étranger), The Music of Chance (nominated for the 1991 PEN/Faulkner Award), Moon Palace, and In the Country of Last Things. He has also written two memoirs (The Invention of Solitude and Hand to Mouth), a collection of essays, and a volume of poems, and edited the book I Thought My Father Was God: And Other True Tales from NPR’s National Story Project. He has won literary fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in both poetry and prose, and in 1990 received the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He wrote the screenplays for Smoke, Blue in the Face, and Lulu on the Bridge, which he also directed. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

LUC SANTE’s books include Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York and The Factory of Facts. He teaches writing and the history of photography at Bard College.

PAUL AUSTER

The New York Trilogy

CITY OF GLASS
GHOSTS
THE LOCKED ROOM

Introduction by
LUC SANTE

PENGUIN BOOKS

Introduction by Luc Sante


City of Glass

Ghosts

The Locked Room

Introduction

Paul Auster has the key to the city. He has not, as far as I know, been presented with the literal object, traditionally an oversized five-pound gold-plated item, dispensed to visiting benefactors and favored natives on a dais in front of City Hall by a functionary in top hat and claw hammer coat, but I doubt he needs one of those. Auster’s key is like the key to dreams or the key to the highway. It is an alchemical passe-partout that allows him to see through walls and around corners, that permits him entry to corridors and substrata and sealed houses nobody else notices, as well as to a field of variegated phenomena once considered discrete, but whose coherence Auster has established. This territory is a realm within New York City, a current that runs along its streets, within its office buildings and apartment houses and helter-skelter through its parks—a force field charged by synchronicity and overlap, perhaps invisible but inarguably there, although it was never identified as such before Auster planted his flag.

Auster’s characters peregrinate along this corridor as if it were a moving sidewalk, or like the dream subway devised by the cartoonist Ben Katchor, which stops in individual apartments. Quinn, in City of Glass, and Blue, in Ghosts, both stumble into it, to their enlightenment and discomfiture, and the unseen Fanshawe, in The Locked Room, has gone to live there—the question is whether any of them is able to emerge from it. If you have spent time in New York City and fully engaged with the place, chances are that you will have caught glimpses of that space-time continuum. You will have noticed certain cryptic graffiti, certain glossolaliac manifestos crammed onto photocopied sheets that you did not understand because they were written in the language of that slipstream. You will have wondered about various street characters—itinerant performers and site-specific eccentrics and inexplicable middle-of-the-night apparitions—who are, it turns out, commuters from that realm into the workaday world. But it may be, in fact, the essence of the city, while what passes for the city in the average experience is nothing more than a thin coat of paint.

Auster’s characters know that you can practice a form of divination by reading the sidewalks, that capricious telephone calls can link people in ways that may seem random but end up sealing their fates, that you can pass through the streets completely unseen while making no special effort to disguise yourself or hide, that you can pass through your life in the city without leaving any more of a mark than if you had never been born, that you probably have a double out there somewhere among the eight million whose life runs such a close parallel to yours that the lines never converge—although if they ever do: beware. These things prove that the city has been around for millennia, although it was not always located at the mouth of the Hudson River, or even in North America. It was not even always a city. For a long time it was known as a forest. It was, in fact, the primeval forest, inhabited by trickster foxes and stolid pigs and woebegone wolves and the occasional shape-shifting human, but it was recognizably the same labyrinth of chance.

The chief difference between Auster’s city and that forest is that the trees have become buildings and their leaves have become paper. The paper is covered with writing and gathered into manuscripts and notebooks, of preference red. Some of these are eventually transubstantiated into printed books, but often they subsist as manuscripts and notebooks, which usually find a readership of one besides their authors. Their contents are often cryptic, often coded, sometimes dull, sometimes so disturbing that their readers cannot responsibly give an account but can respond only by destroying them. Those manuscripts and notebooks that cannot be published usually have the deepest connection with the truth, and that truth is either arcane and difficult to perceive or else it is painful enough to be considered an abomination.

Fates pivot on these unread texts, which are in each case the focus or the result of an inquiry by a metaphysical detective. These detectives may bear a superficial or circumstantial resemblance to the classic detectives of the eponymous genre of fiction—about the same kind of resemblance that those characters in turn have to actual workaday investigators—but in essence Auster’s detectives are pilgrims, questers. They would be more immediately recognizable in the forest, striding along with staff in hand and bindle on back, maybe whistling to keep the shadows at bay. And like the blameless pilgrim who ventures forth into the forest with resolve but not without qualms, the detective ultimately finds that his mission has led him through the labyrinth on a path that describes an irregular circle.

There is also an author, who appears in each of the novels, who may or may not be called “Paul Auster” and may or may not share personality traits or biographical elements with the person whose name appears on the spine. He is, in the finest tradition, merely a witness, moved to transmit the story while maintaining a measured reserve. Or is he perhaps the central character, setting up a lookalike as a blind to cover the degree of his involvement? Auster encourages this line of speculation, which is a labyrinth of another sort and bears a pedigree which—as he reminds us, riffing under his own name on the conundrum of Don Quixote—far predates postmodernism. If the city is a forest and the detective is a pilgrim, the author is a pilgrim as well. He is the one who makes it out alive, who can exchange his story for supper and a bed of straw.

There have been, in two hundred years, a great many novels and stories set in New York City, but until Paul Auster’s trilogy no one had made a serious effort to demonstrate its extreme antiquity, its surface flimsiness compared to its massive subterranean depths, its claim on the origins of stories far older than written culture. But now we know, and that truth will inhere no matter how many times the city is reconfigured and how thoroughly living memory is banished from it. Auster, who owns the key, makes its use available to all readers.

CITY OF GLASS

It was a wrong number that started it...
by PAUL AUSTER

1

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. Much later, when he was able to think about the things that happened to him, he would conclude that nothing was real except chance. But that was much later. In the beginning, there was simply the event and its consequences. Whether it might have turned out differently, or whether it was all predetermined with the first word that came from the stranger’s mouth, is not the question. The question is the story itself, and whether or not it means something is not for the story to tell.

As for Quinn, there is little that need detain us. Who he was, where he came from, and what he did are of no great importance. We know, for example, that he was thirty-five years old. We know that he had once been married, had once been a father, and that both his wife and son were now dead. We also know that he wrote books. To be precise, we know that he wrote mystery novels. These works were written under the name of William Wilson, and he produced them at the rate of about one a year, which brought in enough money for him to live modestly in a small New York apartment. Because he spent no more than five or six months on a novel, for the rest of the year he was free to do as he wished. He read many books, he looked at paintings, he went to the movies. In the summer he watched baseball on television; in the winter he went to the opera. More than anything else, however, what he liked to do was walk. Nearly every day, rain or shine, hot or cold, he would leave his apartment to walk through the city—never really going anywhere, but simply going wherever his legs happened to take him.

New York was an inexhaustible space, a labyrinth of endless steps, and no matter how far he walked, no matter how well he came to know its neighborhoods and streets, it always left him with the feeling of being lost. Lost, not only in the city, but within himself as well. Each time he took a walk, he felt as though he were leaving himself behind, and by giving himself up to the movement of the streets, by reducing himself to a seeing eye, he was able to escape the obligation to think, and this, more than anything else, brought him a measure of peace, a salutary emptiness within. The world was outside of him, around him, before him, and the speed with which it kept changing made it impossible for him to dwell on any one thing for very long. Motion was of the essence, the act of putting one foot in front of the other and allowing himself to follow the drift of his own body. By wandering aimlessly, all places became equal, and it no longer mattered where he was. On his best walks, he was able to feel that he was nowhere. And this, finally, was all he ever asked of things: to be nowhere. New York was the nowhere he had built around himself, and he realized that he had no intention of ever leaving it again.

In the past, Quinn had been more ambitious. As a young man he had published several books of poetry, had written plays, critical essays, and had worked on a number of long translations. But quite abruptly, he had given up all that. A part of him had died, he told his friends, and he did not want it coming back to haunt him. It was then that he had taken on the name of William Wilson. Quinn was no longer that part of him that could write books, and although in many ways Quinn continued to exist, he no longer existed for anyone but himself.

He had continued to write because it was the only thing he felt he could do. Mystery novels seemed a reasonable solution. He had little trouble inventing the intricate stories they required, and he wrote well, often in spite of himself, as if without having to make an effort. Because he did not consider himself to be the author of what he wrote, he did not feel responsible for it and therefore was not compelled to defend it in his heart. William Wilson, after all, was an invention, and even though he had been born within Quinn himself, he now led an independent life. Quinn treated him with deference, at times even admiration, but he never went so far as to believe that he and William Wilson were the same man. It was for this reason that he did not emerge from behind the mask of his pseudonym. He had an agent, but they had never met. Their contacts were confined to the mail, for which purpose Quinn had rented a numbered box at the post office. The same was true of the publisher, who paid all fees, monies, and royalties to Quinn through the agent. No book by William Wilson ever included an author’s photograph or biographical note. William Wilson was not listed in any writers’ directory, he did not give interviews, and all the letters he received were answered by his agent’s secretary. As far as Quinn could tell, no one knew his secret. In the beginning, when his friends learned that he had given up writing, they would ask him how he was planning to live. He told them all the same thing: that he had inherited a trust fund from his wife. But the fact was that his wife had never had any money. And the fact was that he no longer had any friends.

It had been more than five years now. He did not think about his son very much anymore, and only recently he had removed the photograph of his wife from the wall. Every once in a while, he would suddenly feel what it had been like to hold the three-year-old boy in his arms—but that was not exactly thinking, nor was it even remembering. It was a physical sensation, an imprint of the past that had been left in his body, and he had no control over it. These moments came less often now, and for the most part it seemed as though things had begun to change for him. He no longer wished to be dead. At the same time, it cannot be said that he was glad to be alive. But at least he did not resent it. He was alive, and the stubbornness of this fact had little by little begun to fascinate him—as if he had managed to outlive himself, as if he w...

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