Reader as Detective in Paul Auster’s City of Glass

Posted on March 9, 2014


For the last ten weeks I have been studying Paul Auster’s book City of Glass and the metaphysical landscape within. The book was of special interest to me because it practically begged me to get inside the text and see what was up in there.

The book is fascinating in this way. It is taking the mystery away from the detective in the story and giving it to the reader to solve. This was one of Edgar Allan Poe’s inventions. He believed the reader should receive the clues in the same way the detective did so they have a chance to solve the case.

Auster’s book follows this rule and another of Poe’s rules of a detective novel : There is the situation, and there is the resolution. In a classic detective novel, there is the description of the crime such as when a distressed woman walks into a 1940s detective’s office, and there is the story of the detective solving the crime. In Auster’s book Quinn hears the Stillmans out and decides to take their case, then he goes about jotting notes and trying to get to the heart of it. But what readers discover at the heart of it is that sometimes there is only ambiguity at the end of the book. That’s how Auster sets himself apart from the typical detective novel.

As an example, there are several pages devoted to a walk Daniel Quinn, the protagonist, has before the book’s conclusion. If one were to take the time to map the points out, they may find something revealed to them like a treasure map. But maybe they won’t. I decided to find out. Here is my map, and like Auster, I will leave you to decide what it reveals: