City of Glass by Paul Auster is a short novel and the first volume of The New York Trilogy. It presents the story of Daniel Quinn, who receives several phone calls from someone who thinks he is a private detective. Although, at first glance, the novel seems to contain elements common in detective fiction, it ends up playing with the readers’ expectations, using the background of the mystery story to bring to attention philosophical themes such as identity, reality versus fiction, and isolation.
The novel has a chronological structure. There are several instances of foreshadowing that hint that the case given to the main character might not end well. The novel also contains an unexpected plot twist that shatters the readers’ expectations.
The novel does not have many characters and it is hard to be sure about the identity of most of them. The main character is Daniel Quinn, a mystery writer who is mistaken for Paul Auster, the detective. The people who commission Quinn are Virginia Stillman and her husband Peter, who claims his father who shares his name wants to kill him. Paul Auster turns out to be a writer too, and it is uncertain whether Paul Auster, the private detective, really exists.
The physical setting of the novel is New York. Some settings are particularly important, such as the apartment on 69th Street and Grand Central Station. The story takes place over the course of several months, from May, when Quinn gets the first phone call, to February, when the author and Auster find Quinn’s red notebook in the empty apartment.
For the most part, the story is written by a third-person narrator who follows Quinn’s limited and slightly unreliable perspective. At the end of the novel, the narrative suddenly shifts to first person.
The language for the most part formal, as the author often uses complex vocabulary. Several symbols are particularly important, such as Quinn’s red notebook, or his chosen pen name, William Wilson.
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