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Paul Auster, author of The New York Trilogy, dies aged 77

The writer, who published 34 books in his lifetime, had lung cancer

Lydia Spencer-Elliott
Wednesday 01 May 2024 11:08 BST
Acclaimed Writer Paul Auster Dead At 77

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Louise Thomas

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Paul Auster, the author of The New York Trilogy and Moon Palace, has died aged 77.

The prolific novelist, who published 34 books in his lifetime, died on Tuesday due to complications from lung cancer.

His death was confirmed by his friend and fellow author, Jacki Lyden.

The Falls author, Joyce Carol Oates, described Auster’s work in 2010 as “highly stylised, quirkily riddlesome postmodernist fiction in which narrators are rarely other than unreliable and the bedrock of plot is continually shifting".

Auster’s career took off in 1982 with his memoir The Invention of Solitude. His first novel, City of Glass, was rejected 17 times before it was taken by a publisher in California in 1985.

“Auster has established one of the most distinctive niches in contemporary literature,” critic Michael Dirda wrote in 2008. “His narrative voice is as hypnotic as that of the Ancient Mariner. Start one of his books and by page two you cannot choose but hear.”

City of Glass was Auster’s first novel in book series The New York Trilogy, which was eventually released as one volume. The story follows a mystery writer, Daniel Quinn, who is mistaken for a private detective through a wrong number. Quinn takes on the detective’s identity and loses himself in the sleuthing task.

Paul Auster, the author of ‘The New York Trilogy’ and ‘Moon Palace’, has died aged 77
Paul Auster, the author of ‘The New York Trilogy’ and ‘Moon Palace’, has died aged 77 (AFP via Getty Images)

“The more [Auster’s detectives] stalk their eccentric quarry, the more they seem actually to be stalking the Big Questions – the implications of authorship, the enigmas of epistemology, the veils and masks of language,” wrote critic Stephen Schiff in 1987.

Auster was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1947. He claimed his writing career started when he was eight years old after he couldn’t get an autograph from his baseball hero, Willie Mays, because neither of his parents had a pencil.

From that day, Auster took a pencil everywhere. “If there’s a pencil in your pocket, there’s a good chance that one day you’ll feel tempted to start using it,” he wrote in an essay for the New Yorker in 1995.

After studying at Columbia University, Auster moved to Paris in the early 1970s, where he lived with his college girlfriend and fellow writer, Lydia Davis. In 1974, the pair moved back to the US where they were married. Auster and Davis welcomed a son, Daniel, three years later and separated shortly afterwards.

The prolific novelist died on Tuesday due to complications from lung cancer
The prolific novelist died on Tuesday due to complications from lung cancer (AFP via Getty Images)

Auster met his second wife, The Blindfold author Siri Hustvedt, in 1981. The pair married the following year and welcomed a daughter, Sophie, in 1987. After his daughter was born, Auster published more than a dozen books, including Moon Palace (1989) , The Music of Chance (1990), The Book of Illusions (2002) and Oracle Night (2003).

Auster’s first child, Daniel, died from a drug overdose in April 2022 11 days after being charged in the death of his 10-month-old daughter, Ruby.

Hustvedt revealed Auster was being treated for cancer the following year after having been diagnosed in December 2022. His final novel, Baumgartner, which tells the story of a widowed writer in his 70s, was published in October.

As well as his wife, Auster is survived by his daughter, Sophie; his sister, Janet, and his grandson Miles.

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