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by John Q McDonald --- 15 March 2004

The Locked Room

by Paul Auster

Perhaps it was this reader's mistake to begin with the second book in Auster's New York Trilogy. This book is the third in that trilogy, after City of Glass and Ghosts (all 3 are now published in a single volume). Proceeding out of order only becomes a problem late in this short novel. Still, it can more or less stand on its own. The unnamed protagonist and narrator is the old friend of a man named Fanshawe, who has recently disappeared, leaving behind a beautiful pregnant wife and a mass of unpublished manuscripts. In a letter, Fanshaw exhorted his wife to give the works to the narrator, who could publish or destroy them as he pleased. At first a little uneasy about taking up the task, our narrator eventually takes it on with gusto. Fanshawe's works are brilliant (though no part of them appears here) and immediately successful. The narrator goes on to marry Fanshawe's wife and to adopt his infant son. Still, the mystery of Fanshawe's disappearance eats at the narrator. He becomes obsessed, and his identity with Fanshawe becomes an existential crisis that only a catastrophe could resolve. Auster often writes about being a writer. It has become his own sub-genre. Here the conceit comes off a little self-indulgent and one wonders why this protagonist can't break free from the absurd situation into which he's placed himself. The book may remind the reader of many existential novels, particularly those of Kobo Abe. The narrator is trapped by a mystery and an idea. It would seem easy to break free, but he stubbornly remains in his prison. The book is witty and dark. It is bleak but ends on a hopeful note.

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Also by Auster: [Ghosts] [The Book of Illusions]