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Paul Auster: The Locked Room

The third novel in the New York Trilogy takes us back to contemporary New York. It is a bit easier-going than the first two, not least because it has a first-person narrator (albeit nameless) who seems more of a human and less of a cipher than the main characters in the other two. Sophie Fanshawe (Sophie is the name of Auster’s daughter and Fanshawe the title of Hawthorne’s first novel, while Hawthorne’s wife was called Sophia) contacts the narrator because her husband, the narrator’s best friend when they were children, has disappeared. Fanshawe is a writer and the narrator sets about publishing the manuscripts left behind so that Fanshawe’s reputation increases (and the narrator profits). Indeed, he goes further. He marries Sophie and they have a daughter. He starts to write a biography of Fanshawe. Indeed, as this novel is about identity as are the previous two in the Trilogy, he seems to be assuming the mantle and identity of Fanshawe.

He then learns that Fanshawe is not dead but only hiding out. He keeps the information to himself and tries to rid himself of the Fanshawe identity. He does meet up with Fanshawe but, of course, the mystery is not resolved, except for the narrator to say that all three novels of the Trilogy are really the same story, just written at different stages of awareness. Auster offers no solutions or explanations and that, in part, is the beauty of this novel and the other two in the Trilogy. There is no easy way out, no neat, pat answer as in most detective novels. Not only can we not say whether the butler did it, we do not even know what he is supposed to have done.

Publishing history

First published 1986 by Sun & Moon Press