Books: A book that changed me

SARAH CHAMPION on Paul Auster's 'The New York Trilogy'
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The Independent Culture
When did you first read it? In Manchester in 1991, an empty year musically and personally: a year spent waiting for "something" to happen. Reading Paul Auster was it.

Why did it strike you so much?All my favourite books concern life on the fringes - tales of cities on the wrong side of midnight; of squalor and excess; of drifters, drug users, freaks and outcasts.

In Auster novels, the central characters are oddly empty and isolated, the void of their lives becomes filled with strange obsessions - like the cigar-store owner in Smoke who photographs the same street corner at the same time every morning. And in The New York Trilogy, a man called Blue is hired by a man called White to spy on a man called Black. It captures the disassociation from reality of clinical depression and the anonymity of big-city life, both of which fascinate me.

One of the core elements of Auster's writing is the way characters walk away from their lives and don't look back, with an amnesiac-like ability to re-invent themselves. Their futures are decided by the "music of chance" - the roll of dice, a random meeting, a strange coincidence.

"It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not ..." begins The New York Trilogy. Quinn, a crime writer, answers the phone. It's someone looking for the "Auster Detective Agency". On a whim, he decides to take on this new identity.

Of all the books that have fired my imagination, from Seth Morgan's Homeboy to William Gibson's Count Zero, none has actually changed the course of my life. The New York Trilogy did. Two days after I read it, I received a phone call. A person I did not know asked if I had a passport. I said yes. Was I available for the next few days? Would I like to travel to Connecticut to bug a hotel room? The coincidence was too profound - the music of chance was playing. I left Manchester that week (and never went back), embarked on a brief career as a private detective and started a new life in London.

Do you recommend it or is it a private passion? I definitely recommend it, as well as the other Paul Auster novels The Music of Chance, Moon Palace and Mr Vertigo.

8 Sarah Champion is the editor of the 'Disco Biscuits' and 'Disco 2000' short story anthologies, published by Sceptre

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