The Book of Illusions: A Novel Paperback – Aug 1 2003
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Vermont professor David Zimmer is a broken man. The protagonist of Paul Auster's 10th novel, The Book of Illusions, hits a period in which life seemed to be working aggressively against him. After his wife and sons are killed in an airplane crash, Zimmer becomes an alcoholic recluse, fond of emptying his bottle of sleeping pills into his palm, contemplating his next move. But one night, while watching a television documentary, Zimmer's attention is caught by the silent-film comedian Hector Mann, who had disappeared without a trace in 1929 and who was considered long-dead. Soon, Zimmer begins work on a book about Mann's newly discovered films (copies of which had been sent, anonymously, to film archives around the world). The spirit of Hector Mann keeps David Zimmer alive for a year. When a letter arrives from someone claiming to be Hector Mann's wife, announcing that Mann had read Zimmer's book and would like to meet him, it is as if fate has tossed Zimmer from one hand to the other: from grief and loss to desire and confusion.
Although film images are technically "illusions," this deft and layered novel is not so much about conscious illusion or trickery as about the traces we leave behind us: words, images, memories. Children are one obvious trace, but in this book, they are not allowed to carry their parents forward. They die early: Hector Mann losing his 3-year-old son to a bee sting just as David Zimmer has lost his two sons in the crash. The second half of The Book of Illusions is given over to a love affair, and to Zimmer's attempt to save something of Hector Mann, and of the others he has loved. In the end, what really survives of us on earth--what flickering immortality we are permitted--is left to the reader to surmise. --Regina Marler --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
David Zimmer, an English professor in Vermont, is trying to rebuild his life-after his family perishes in an airplane crash-by researching the work of Hector Mann, a minor figure from the era of silent movies, in this enigmatic, elliptical 10th novel, one of Auster's best. As in much of the writer's fiction, the narrative revolves around coincidence, fate and odd resonances. Mann's world, like Zimmer's, collapses in a single instant, and Mann, like Zimmer, embarks on self-imposed exile as a way to deal with his grief and do penance. Mann disappeared at the height of his career in 1929, but when Zimmer's book about him is published in the 1980s, it elicits a mysterious invitation: would Zimmer like to meet Mann, who is alive and has been working in secret as actor/director Hector Spelling? The skeptical scholar is lured from Vermont by Alma Grund, who grew up around Mann and is writing his biography. As Grund and Zimmer fall in love, she fills in the decades-long gap in Mann's life-a strange American odyssey that culminated on a ranch in New Mexico where he made movies he refused to screen for anyone. As in previous novels, Auster here makes the unbelievable completely credible, and his overall themes are very much of a piece with those of earlier works: the "mutinous unpredictability of matter" and the way storytellers shape and organize unpredictability. A darker and more somber mood shadows this book; Mann and Zimmer both are tragic figures-even melodramatic-and their stories are compelling. Auster is a novelist of ideas who hasn't forgotten that his first duty is to tell a good story.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Redemption, this novel suggests, can be found by engaging in meaningful enterprises for which one holds no further expectation or hope than the enterprise itself. (This is far too simple and would require loads of qualification, but I can't qualify it further without going into details from the text that I wouldn't want to deprive anyone of the enjoyment of discovering for him or herself. This is a solid piece of work that deserves to be read both for its overall themes but also for its wonderful descriptions of nonexistent films that I wish I could see and feel a bit like I have after reading this novel.)
The book is pure Auster. It has the regular story, and then Auster concocts several other stories within the story. And as always he dangles just enough of the story within the story to keep you interested and wanting more.
So what didn't I like about this novel? The main character David Zimmer. That's what I didn't like. He comes across as mean and I never grew to like him, no matter how long I stayed with the novel. Having said that though, if you're a Paul Auster fan, then you'll want to read this book. If it is your first time in coming to an Auster novel, I'd recommend The New York Trilogy first.
However, it fell short it two fairly glaring areas for me.
1) The romance elements are barely plausible. They struck me as middle-school melodramatic. People sort of pop from indifference into world-shattering love, and stay in puppy-dog devotion until circumstances tear them apart.
2) The attempt to discribe brilliant cinema fell so far short as to be almost comic in its attempt. Writing about visual art is really hard to do, and I respect the ambition of giving it a go here. Any description, even a good one, leaves you with a pretty thin shadow of the real thing, so no fault of Auster's that this is short of compelling. But this particular part of the book goes past the forgivable and into the groan-out-loud bad. Hard to say more without a spoiler here, but let me just say that I'm very glad that Auster is writer and not a film maker.
This was at the low end of a 4 star read for me. Lose the pretention, make the characters as real in their relations to each other as they are in their thoughts and actions, and leave brilliant films to the imagination, and it would have been a really notable read. As it is, its a solidly crafted, middle of the road, enjoyable but forgettable book.
Most recent customer reviews
This had to be one of the most plodding overwritten books I've ever been unfortunate enough to read. Read morePublished on Nov. 5 2004 by W. Miller
Auster's book is a modern fairy tale of troubled lives searching for a purpose to continue living in a world of loneliness, regret and self pitty. Read morePublished on July 6 2004 by P. KALAY
I really got into the character building Auster did. The book moved smoothly and creatively. The reader at no point was lost in what Auster was working with. Read morePublished on June 2 2004 by Renee
I find Auster's ideas interesting, but his execution plods a litle. I didn't find this book to be brilliant, but it was capably done, a little melodramatic in content, but I think... Read morePublished on April 21 2004 by Verita
After reading Mr. Auster's dopey Timbuktu (I wrote a damning review of that too) I thought the man was out of ideas, and The Book of Illusions proves it. Read morePublished on April 20 2004
Paul Auster shows just how great a writer he is with this book.
You are immediately wrapped up in the world of Hector Mann. Read more
A nice and pleasant experience reading this book. I would rate it 3.7 or 3.8 Nothing really special but a very fine story !Published on March 25 2004 by KeepKage
In this book Auster continues to dazzle readers with a unique and powerful writing style. His sentence structure and precision in language makes virtually all his books a pleasure... Read morePublished on March 18 2004 by Jon Linden