Narrative Voice in “City of Glass”

Narrative voice in both the comic adaptation of Paul Auster’s mystery novel City of Glass and the text in its original form plays a crucial role that, if altered, would significantly alter the reader’s interpretation of the storyline itself.

The constant shifts in the identity of main character Quinn add a dynamic aspect that moves the reader through the plot. In the classic format of the murder mystery, the author, detective, and reader move through plot together, bound by a mutually accepted set of rules. In City of Glass, the author is represented by both Paul Auster himself and Quinn under his professional pseudonym, William Wilson; the detective is represented by both Quinn himself and his recurring character Max Work; and we as readers try our best to follow the story as it’s laid before us. The detective acts as interpreter of events, but what we as readers glean from a text is significantly affected when an objective author becomes an unreliable narrator and, furthermore, a fractured self.

As Quinn becomes increasingly consumed by his quest to live out the fantasies of his work and protect client Peter Stillman Jr., he begins to lose grip on a single objective truth and we as readers are pulled down with him. By the end of the novel, Quinn has become a shell of his former self, devoid of his former drive and sensibility. In the graphic novel adapted by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli,  the last panels of the story feature Quinn in solitude, naked and surrounded by darkness. As he begins his descent, we see Quinn in a fetal position completely embraced by darkness (129), an image that could almost be interpreted as a rebirth and a cyclical connection to Stillman’s experiences as mentioned prior.

How does Quinn’s complex relationship with both his work and his own identity change our interpretation of the novel as a whole?

One comment

  1. Ah yes it makes sense that the story seems incoherent to us because the main protagonist is incoherent, and then there’s the narrator (who may be Quinn or someone else) who isn’t to be relied upon either despite his/her protestations that this story is based on the red notebook (how could it be just that?) and that it sticks to the facts and the narrator has “refrained from any interpretation” (Auster 202). I hadn’t really thought about how the story would be fractured because of the fractured and unreliable protagonist who may also be the narrator. But that seems exactly right now that I pay attention to it!

    I also appreciate your point that at the end of the novel when Quinn is naked and in darkness it’s like a kind of rebirth. As we discussed in class today, we could interpret his character as dying as Quinn but possibly continuing to exist as someone else.

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