Sunday, May 3, 2009

The London Trilogy

Once upon a time when I lived in New York, I had the distinct pleasure of reading Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy, a series of detective novels set in the City and exploring the various kinds of identity and existential issues that might strike a person living there. It is unfortunate that I can point to no book or series of books and say 'this! This is The London Trilogy. I am tempted to point to Peter Ackroyd, cite novels such as Hawksmoor and say 'this is the British Paul Auster!' but that would be unfair to Ackroyd's own immense prowess as a writer - he is simply Peter Ackroyd, no comparison necessary.

The themes within Hawksmoor are eerily similar to those in The New York Trilogy, and walk hand-in-hand with themes in other books I've read recently: The Master and Margarita, which is likely the second-best novel I've ever read after 100 Years of Solitude, and The Satanic Verses, which I've not yet finished but is majestic and glorious in its portrayal of the placeless place that is the expatriate's Ell Oh En Dee Oh En.

But there is no London Trilogy per se just as there is no version of Woody Allen here to assign the city a theme tune (Rhapsody in Blue for New York, of course) and film us all in glorious black-and-white. The startling thing is that we don't need an Allen or a Trilogy. We're doing quite well on our own thank you, as Mr. Ackroyd and Mr. Rushdie and how many countless other writers have proven.

It is the very essence of unnaturalness that so many people are shoved into such a small space and I suspect it is this unnatural state of affairs that lead us to examine our identifies when confronted with so many other individuals at the same time. The millions of years of evolution that lead us here did nothing to prepare us for our Londons and our New Yorks, and for the question-answer hunt that we embrace when we move here and become aware of the glorious and lush tapestry of these lives around us.

I offer a new metaphor: London is a loom upon which we can weave our own patterns into the massive and unknowable cloth of life around us.

1 comment:

Autolycus said...

You're not wrong: and a lot of "London" literature is about how people use the size and anonymity of the city to invent and reinvent themselves, and "invent" their own city about them (most Londoners really only feel at home in a very few parts of the city). There is, incidentally, a sort of "London Trilogy", three novels by Maureen Duffy (Wounds, Capital, and Londoners).