City of Glass

Strangely enough, Auster’s City of Glass was quite possibly my favourite novel this entire year. It was weird, confusing, at times disturbing – but surprisingly relatable. Quinn, a writer without any goals, wandering aimlessly, finding himself everywhere yet nowhere. He finds himself in reality, yet at the same time, does not see himself as real.

Despite the narration being in third person, and the aloofness of the character, I found that in the novel, Quinn was still a sympathetic and somewhat understandable character (for most of the book). On the other hand, I found myself much more detached from the story, and much more distant from the Quinn that was being portrayed. Yet perhaps that is what makes this book so fascinating to me – the variety of interpretations the story can have, and the characters that are so strange that their personalities are almost shifting and malleable. I do not see either graphic novels or conventional literature to be a “superior form” – rather, in this blog post, I will try and explain how these mediums shaped my own interpretation so differently.

New York City – From the roof (2007). In the public domain. Accessed from Wikimedia Commons.

“My name is Peter Stillman. Perhaps you have heard of me, but more than likely not. No matter. That is not my real name. My real name I cannot remember. Excuse me. Not that it makes a difference. That is to say, anymore.” (Auster 27)

Perhaps the most drastic change of perspective I had when I moved on to the graphic novel was the depictions of the characters, especially that of Peter Stillman (Jr.). While in the novel form, Peter was undoubtedly a strange and mentally troubled figure, it was when he was drawn in the graphic novel that I truly felt the sense of being disturbed. From page 15 – 23 in the graphic novel, Peter’s “speech” is depicted, yet in a much different fashion from the novel. Each page is drawn in a symmetrical 9-panel layout, at first depicting Peter, staring, unmoving. After the first page the scene shifts to numerous objects and figures, sharing the same theme, with each speech bubble apparently being sourced from an inanimate object. Instead of having just Peter’s broken speech, and leaving the imagery to the reader’s imagination, the graphic novel uses this symbolism to perhaps portray Peter as one of these broken, unmoving objects, comparing him to these strange things which should not have a voice.

On the subject of 9-panel layouts, a realization dawned upon me as I looked upon page 37 of the graphic novel: the symmetry and geometric layout of each of the panels, and formation of the panels to create a larger scene, gives the perfect impression of a window. Here, we stare into Quinn’s home, these private quarters, where he is vulnerably naked and holding his head in frustration. Although the panels can still be read from left to right, and the papers in each panel are aligned in that order, it appears to be a larger scene, and the shape of the page completely resembles a window frame. Up until this page, I had been wondering about the precise geometric shapes, and the odd panel layout of the graphic novel, but it was not until this page that it hit me – each page is a window into Quinn’s life, another surface in the “City of Glass”. Although we may seem to be told all the details of the story, the novel is merely a frame, a glimpse of the bigger picture that we cannot understand. At the same time, Quinn’s character becomes increasingly more alienated from both us and the real world: the transparent layer of glass forces us to stay on the outside of the story, unable to connect to his mind, and unable to understand the book’s strange mystery. It is almost as though we are no longer readers – we are merely viewers, confronted with our own isolation.

And after all this time, I still feel as though I have merely scratched the surface of the book…City of Glass was an intriguing novel indeed.


Toni Morrison is actually one of the authors I am somewhat familiar with – I had read and analyzed Sula, another one of her works, back in highschool. While Sula was much different than Jazz in terms of writing style and narrative form, it dealt with many of the same themes: the urbanization of the country, the radical shifts in ideas and identity, and the development of the African-American lifestyle. What I found most interesting in Jazz which I had not encountered in Sula was Morrison’s use of the narrative voice: instead of the third-person narration that was used in Sula, the narrator in Jazz seems to be much more connected with the characters, and even occasionally switches to the characters’ perspectives.

File:Adi Holzer Werksverzeichnis 899 Satchmo (Louis Armstrong).jpg

Satchmo (Louis Armstrong) (2002). In the public domain. Accessed from Wikimedia Commons.

The perspective of the narration in Sula tended to be a very distanced view from the characters of the plot, with numerous references to the view of other townsfolk, and mentions of gossip and the image of the main characters in the eyes of their society. Jazz also seems to do this, albeit in a very different way – the opinions given are that of the narrator himself/herself, instead of a general comment by neighbors.

“This notion of rest, it’s attractive to her, but I don’t think she would like it. They are all like that, these women. Waiting for the ease, the space that need not be filled with anything other than the drift of their own thoughts. But they wouldn’t like it. They are busy and thinking of ways to be busier because such a space of nothing pressing to do would knock them down.” (16)

The narrator assumes that he/she knows these women, and gives his/her opinion on them – without providing any evidence of how she obtained her knowledge. While there would have been little problem had the narrator shown himself/herself as an omniscient narrator, there is little to show that he/she actually does know of the minds of these characters. In fact, there seems to be more evidence leading to the opposite conclusion: the narrator is just another character of the town, and makes assumptions of the other characters’ lives as opposed to truly knowing about them. The narrator often presents himself/herself in this way:

“Joe probably thinks that the song is about him. He’d like believing it. I know him so well. Have seen him feed small animals nobody else paid any attention to, but I was never deceived.” (119)

Here the narrator presents himself/herself as not only an interconnected character, but as a well-knowing acquaintance – even though he/she never reveals how or in what nature he/she obtains this information. While this does give us a perspective that is possibly more well-knowing of the characters, thus increasing the reader’s personal connection to the events in the story, the narrator’s position as trustworthy becomes even more doubtful.

Sorry for the late post!