Sometimes I Couldn’t Keep Up


Paul Auster’s ‘The New York Trilogy is a series of novelettes, originally published in sequence as City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1986); and combined into a single volume the following year. The author, born February 3, 1947, ‘is’, according to Wikipedia, ‘an American writer and director whose writing blends absurdism, existentialism, crime fiction, and the search for identity and personal meaning.’

Last night I finished reading the first story which I soon realised was describing a descent into madness. Whose, I wasn’t sure; because of the several identities, realities, and time-frames.

There is also an intertextual relationship with Cervantes’ Don Quixote. It is so long since I struggled to make sense of this great Spanish classic that the significance of the link escaped me.

Chapter 2 almost had me abandoning Auster’s tale. However, I saw it to the end and came to appreciate what the author was presenting. I thought it worth persevering with, and was left happy to tackle the next one.

My copy is The Folio Society’s 2008 edition which benefits from the powerfully atmospheric illustrations of Tom Burns, which won the V & A  2009 Overall book illustration Winner for this work. The museum’s website states that ‘the judges commented that these illustrations make great use of colour, capturing the city in a very fresh and original way. They felt the images integrate perfectly with the text and manage to evoke a variety of sensations such as loneliness, complicated relationships and a sense of speed.’ I’d say he was a worthy winner.

This morning, I scanned another batch of colour negatives from my long walk of July 2003. Regular readers will know that this was executed as an exercise in support of Sam’s epic row of the following year; those who followed the link to ‘Nettle Rash’ will also know that this was not without its obstacles.

There were a certain number of occasions when I lost sight of the rower, either because of these or because there were not enough locks holding him up and giving me a chance to keep pace.

Some of the more pleasant stumbling blocks were created by the flora covering the absent footpaths. Although I can recognise a thistle and a wasp, I lack the knowledge to identify the wild flowers or the white butterfly.

There was ample opportunity to focus on the landscape alongside what I think is the Warwickshire stretch of the Oxford canal. Sometimes there was a benefit in being unable to keep up.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s splendid pork paprika, roasted sweet potatoes, green beans, and red cabbage. I drank more of the Shiraz and the Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden.



  1. I find it much more enjoyable following your rambles through the English countryside than trying to follow Cervantes. Like you I gave up but now and then I have another go at it.

  2. I haven’t heard of the book, but the illustrations you’ve posted are outstanding–as are your own photos. It seems your photographic odyssey was also epic.

  3. I’d prefer to be ‘out there’, even with the failing to keep up bit, rather than struggling with Cervantes and possibly even your modern man Paul Auster despite the excellent illustrations ….. I like the photo of the thistle very much!

  4. The illustrations are great, I think. As for Paul Auster, despite all the good things said about him, I find him interesting, but do not feel compelled to run to the bookshop every time one of his books come out.

  5. My first rendezvous with Absurdist fiction took place when I embarked upon my doctoral thesis on the genre, which would be quickly abandoned. I realise one of the significant reasons contributing to the fiasco was the first book I picked up in the journey, none other than Joseph Heller’s redoubtable Catch 22, after which every other work, Absurdist or Comic-Apocalyptic, paled into insignificance, even Mr Heller’s. I believe it is a difficult art and there is a good reason novelists mix it up with different streams, the most fascinating of which is magical realism. I hope Mr Auster keeps you entertained further.

    Your post is a montage of writing, painting and travelogue. It’s a multi course brunch.

      1. I can promise you one thing, Derrick. If you read that book, you’re never going to complain again about BT, attorneys, real estate agents and the like,

  6. I have just caught up with your recent posts, Derrick, after being in Devon all last week. Your usual excellent photo-journalism is a s impressive as ever. Loved your photos of flooded roads. I too was complained at for abandoning my car to take photographs of the flooded (Exe Valley) roads on Sunday.

  7. Wildflowers are worthy of distraction unlike book illustrations, though I admit that some of them are too good to be buried inside a book.

  8. The purple thistle flower made me very happy at how this bee was enjoying it, too.
    The rolling green hills and bucolic scenery was very atmospheric. It seemed a little moist and hazy.

  9. The blue flowers are some form of vetch, I think. I enjoyed reading absurdist theatre in my youth, but you’re not selling me the trilogy. Love the illustrations, though!

      1. The trouble is I only know wildflowers by their folk names, which are on the vague side if you’re looking to identify something. In parts of American, any flower with yellow flowers and pollen can be called buttercups, even a daffodil!

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