City of Glass: a graphic novel
by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli
adapted from the novel by Paul Auster

This is a strange, complex story that I greatly enjoyed but I must admit that I could not stop wondering how it compared with the original novel. I’m still not quite sure what the purpose is of graphic novel adaptations.

It seems to be a story about identity. The main character, Daniel Quinn, is a New York writer who once had everything – wife, son, respected writing career – but then lost all three. Now he writes cheap detective fiction under the pseudonym William Wilson. One night he gets a phone call, a wrong number asking for Paul Auster, a detective. Quinn decides to say that’s him, and arranges a meeting for the next day. His client Peter Stillman is terrified that his father, also called Peter Stillman, is coming to kill him. Quinn agrees to take the case, but soon realises he knows very little about real detective work. At one point he visits Paul Auster, who the telephone call had been intended for, only to find that Auster too is a writer, not a detective.

It’s a curious mix of plot-driven gritty noir and complex literary psychological study. Nothing is certain. In fact one of the first lines in the book, written across three panes, is “Much later, he would conclude…that nothing was real…except chance.”

The story has a very strong sense of place. Quinn walks a lot around Manhattan and there are some beautiful panels showing his routes walked, or details of the city. There’s also a very strong sense of loneliness. Quinn is grieving, and partly agrees to take the case because he recognises in Stillman (the younger one) a fellow troubled soul.

The drawings cleverly and subtly show Quinn taking on characteristics of other characters in the story, making you question whether those other people are real at all. But plays on language, presumably central to the original novel, are also well conveyed. Some of the names seem carefully chosen: Stillman, Dark, Work. There are long forays into Don Quixote and Paradise Lost. There is a whole subplot about language acquisition.

The artists have done a good job with the long passages that follow convoluted thought processes or discuss literary works. They use very simple, often blocky, images to create dreamlike sequences reminiscent of a 1960s film. It’s all done very well and yet…I really love the language in this book, above all else, so won’t I get more from the full novel?

Only one way to find out.

First published in the US in 1994 by Avon Books. This edition published 2004 by Faber & Faber.

I won this book from Jenn of The Picky Girl in her Book Blogger Appreciation Week giveaway. Thank you Jenn!