Tuesday, December 16, 2008

City of Glass: The Graphic Novel

This graphic novel adapted by David Mazzucchelli and Paul Karasik from a novel written by Paul Auster is what one might call as a confusing work and yet, it compels the reader to re-read it in desperation to gain some understanding of what actually happens.

Thankfully, the black-and-white art by the comics artist, Art Spiegelman makes it easier to do so.

The plot is interestingly...confusing.

The combination of the art & the plot is perhaps what makes City of Glass as one of 100 Most Important Comics of the Century by the Comics Journal.

Here is a detective-fiction writer named, Daniel Quinn after receiving a phone call (actually twice) late at night asking for a detective called Paul Auster, deciding to be a detective.

He meets the client, Peter Stillman and amidst the confusion of what the client rants about (the client during his childhood is the subject of a strange experiment as his father, also named Peter Stillman, believes that his son can learn the God's language if he just stays away from knowing the everyday language).

The client's wife, Virginia tells Quinn/Auster that the father is sent to jail (apparently there is a fire in the apartment & the firemen rescues the younger Peter out from his locked room where he's locked for 9 years) & will soon be released after 13 years. She requests Quinn/Auster to do something to protects the client.

Quinn/Auster offers to keep a constant watch on the older Peter.

As he waits for the older Peter to arrive in a train station, he is faced with a two look-alike Peters. One looks frail & rugged whereas another strong & refined. At first he decides to choose to trail the latter, but then he changes his mind & changes his target. He follows the frail, rugged Peter.

(I am not sure the significance of this part, but I believe if he were to choose to follow the strong & refined old Peter, the story would have turned out to be different--like in the movie, Sliding Doors).

Anyway, he watches the old man day after day & follows his habit of seemingly wandering around the town & collecting all kind of stuff he finds during his walk.

Eventually Quinn/Auster talks to the old Peter. In fact he meets him three times. In the first meeting, he introduces himself as Daniel Quinn, in the second as Harry Dark (which happens to be a character in the book written by the old Peter Stillman) and in the third, he claims to be Peter Stillman (the son).

During all these meetings, the old man doesn't seem to recognize Quinn/Auster.

After the third meeting, Quinn/Auster loses track of the old man. In his frustration, he decides to look up in a phone directory for Paul Auster the detective. Strangely, there is one, but he is a writer.

Quinn/Auster-the-detective meets Auster-the-writer & the former tells the writer the story & passes him the cheque as a proof (Previously the $500-check is issued by the client's wife to Paul Auster).

Quinn tries repeatedly to contact the client's wife that he is giving up on the case. He fails. The busy signals greet him.

He takes it as a sign that he must continue to protect the younger Peter from his father. He now decides to keep watch of the entrance of the building where younger Peter & his wife live. If the older Peter visits, he can be there & prevent the old man to punish his son.

He waits.

And he waits.

And he keeps on waiting.

(Here he is believed to lose grip of his sanity. I love how the panel shows the blurring image as it tells about it. Check it out at page 107!)

Till his money runs out & he calls Auster-the-writer for the $500. The latter tells him that he tries to contact Quinn to inform that the check is not valid. He also informs him that the old Peter commits suicide (Which is in the news, but Quinn does not realize it as he spends his time committed to stay guards waiting for the old Peter to visit his son).

He later calls his client, and is told that the phone no has been disconnected.

Confused, he walks home to his apartment & finds out somebody else is living there. He leaves & walks towards the building where his client stays. The doors are open, but somehow he is not surprised seeing the place deserted.

He spends his time staying in the bare room writing in his notepad. The very same notepad which he buys earlier for the case, for him to write down his observation.

That notebook is later discovered by Auster-the-writer & passes it to the 'unknown' narrator of the story. Quinn's whereabout is not known. He just simply disappears.

Okay, so that may sound a SPOILER for you?

Fret not, you'll enjoy the artwork. You'll be amused to notice how the 'unknown' narrator tells the story with a different 'font' from that used by the characters in the book. And more importantly, you'll enjoy interpreting the story on your own.

Have fun reading & be prepared to be confused...

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