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The Book of Illusions: A Novel
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The Book of Illusions: A Novel

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  11,822 ratings  ·  656 reviews
A man's obsession with a silent-film star sends him on a journey into a shadow world of lies, illusions, and unexpected love

Six months after losing his wife and two young sons in an airplane crash, Vermont professor David Zimmer spends his waking hours mired in a blur of alcoholic grief and self-pity. Then, watching television one night, he stumbles upon a clip from a los...more
ebook, 336 pages
Published October 27th 2009 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published 2002)
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Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Rating: one furious, disgusted star of however many stars there are in a galaxy

I've never been fond of pompous writing, the kind that checks its look in the mirror of acclaim and piles on the self-satisfied smirking smugness that makes me want to torch all the MFA schools I can reach.

My review, which I've moved to my blog, says that and more. Apparently the hoi polloi slithering in from the Internet's more sanctimonious quarters don't agree with me, therefore I must be wrong.
Paul Auster, you bastard!

The man writes such depressing stuff. As with the other Auster I've read (I know I've only read 2 Austers, I am such a failure at being pretentious), I finished this and I was like... what, why did I read this?

To explain myself I should say that I follow the Roger Ebert school of criticism. Roger Ebert cares more about how a movie makes him feel than on its technical merits. Granted, this is rather less valid in the medium of words on a page than the sound and fury of fi...more
By reading this book I have become a die-hard Auster fan. The man is amazing. So clever, so imaginitive, so poetic and almost profound. This book rambles, and in doing so touches on so many intertwined narratives that one almost gives up on what was assumed to be the original plot and assumes the opening catch phrase was just another Paul Auster smoke screen story line. But this one, even in creating such an intricatedly woven network of a character experiences, never looses sight of its ultimat...more

If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound or not? This famous question is closely examined in "The Book of Illusions," by author Paul Auster, as he tells the story of literature professor David Zimmer, who copes with the death of his wife and two sons by shutting out the real world so that he can inhabit the "silent world of Hector Mann," an obscure actor from the 1920s. After leaving a dozen movies behind that nobody seems to know about, Hecto...more
David Zimmer is a teacher and writer whose wife and two young sons have been killed in an aeroplane crash. At his lowest ebb, suicidal and alcoholic, David sees a silent film on television and laughs for the first time since the tragedy. Thereafter, he develops a fascination with the actor featured in the old movie, Hector Mann - a minor star of silent comedies who vanished in 1929 and was never seen or heard of again. Travelling around the world in order to visit the film archives containing He...more
May 28, 2007 Doug rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: someone who's stranded in an airport for 24 hours
I just recommended this book to someone stranded in the Minneapolis airport. I had forgotten how much I liked it until I saw it sitting there quietly on the shelf, minding it's own business.

This is why real books are so much more awesome than ebooks--they come back to tickle your mind. That, and when you spill wine on them (like I did on my copy of The Book of Illusions) they don't give up the ghost in an electric funeral.

Anyhow. Take that, Minneapolis.
Vienna X
Feb 14, 2008 Vienna X rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Grief-striken wordsmiths and lovers of silent film trying to piece their lives back together
A surprising book that is riveting through to the final words. I say "surprising" because at first it's not clear as to what kind of book this is going to be. As with some of Auster's other work, the novel is told through a first-person narrator who happens to be a writer. We get long accounts of the book he is writing (about a silent filmmaker who went missing some years prior) and almost forget that there is a narrator involved, that we aren't reading a third-person account of this filmmaker's...more
Oh Mr. Auster, what are we to do with you? This might have been the last book I end up reading by Paul Auster. It's been a nice ride, but I think he's run his course in my literary life. He's not doing anything great with language, though that's not really his "thing" anyway...he's more about playing with narrative and building pseudo-complex plots whose ideas aren't fully realized.

There was a lot in this novel that I found almost laughably cliche, but the bath tub sex scene towards the end sta...more
Feb 03, 2009 Michael rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Paul Auster
Recommended to Michael by: The library dollar bin
Paul Auster needs to stop. Now. In the beginning (starting with The New York Trilogy) his work was an interesting theoretical experiment. As of late he's become a caricature of himself. I'm tempted to accuse him of plagiarizing the Paul Auster of 20 years ago. The transcription of that court case would be like a general survey of his career and what he still insists on doing in his literature. The prosecution (Paul Auster) would convince the jury that the defense (Paul Austen, probably under a p...more
A few of my favorite things: smart men, secret lives, cinema, facial scars, multi-layered mystery, artistic masterpieces unveiled, itchy sexual tension...I can't love this book any more. One of my favorite books ever.
I LOVED this book! This is a story within a story within a story. It's no wonder why it's called "The Book of Illusions." What I like most out of it is that you can choose what is real and what is fantasy. Even if all the stories told within these pages are real (fictional real, I mean), it is still takes you on an amazing metaphysical journey. It is about a supposed "missing" silent film star, Hector Mann, who is presumed dead after so many years after his disappearance. We learn about him thro...more
Professor David Zimmer's life is destroyed when his wife and two young sons are killed in a plane crash. He goes on a destructive binge of drinking and taking pills until he happens to see a documentary in which he is drawn to silent film comedian Hector Mann, who vanished around 1929 after a brief but promising film career. Zimmer begins to investigate the work of Hector Mann, an interest which becomes an obsession which takes him on a quest to see the 12 films which were mailed, anonymously, t...more
I'm a bit torn about this book, which may be the last Auster I read after a year-long affair. It suffers from many flaws:

It generally reads, as someone writes below, like a self-parody. (You can't fault Paul Auster for trying to explore too many themes, too many kinds of characters, too many stages of life.)

It drags a lot in the middle. (Ross and I were taking turns reading this aloud to each other from his Nook and we just stopped at some point months ago. I finally picked it up on my own to...more
Isabel Maia
“Todos acreditavam que estava morto.”. Até David Zimmer, o personagem principal deste livro, achava que Hector Mann estava morto. Zimmer é um professor de Literatura Comparada numa Univerdade no Vermont, EUA. Com a morte da família num trágico acidente, o professor entra numa espiral de dor e depressão que este expia através da escrita de um livro sobre Hector Mann, um actor de segunda linha de filmes cómicos mudos. Terminado esse projecto, embrenha-se noutro numa tentativa de não pensar no pass...more
Just arrived from Australia through BM.

Man has not one and the same life. He has many lives,
placed end to end, and that is the cause of his misery.

by Chateaubriand

Opening Lines:
Everyone thought he was dead. When my book about his films was published in 1988, Hector Mann had not been heard from in almost sixty years.

After a terrible family tragedy, Professor David Zimmer starts a huge translation project, namely Chateaubriand's Memoires D'outre Tombe, a book of 2,000 pages.

In the meantime, he b...more
This one was a weird one for me, precisely for how unweird it was. The only other fiction I'd read for Auster was "The New York Trilogy," and one thing I didn't expect after that was pretty straight realism. It's really well done. The story is very creative and entertaining, the characters are strong, and the emotion is tangible. It just felt so odd because I expected it to get odd at any moment, and it was never going to and had never said it would.
An elegant book of Austerian (obviously) mystery and coincidence, penetrated by the ghostly aura of film, the ecstasy of encountering art, and the very real spectre of mortality. I read most of it the way Zimmer, in the book, encounters Mann's work, enraptured. In the last fifty pages or so, the book unfortunately starts to feel a bit clumsy, a bit hastily put-together, but the very end is as strong as the first two-thirds.

I'm not sure where I predict this will rank when Auster's complete oeuvr...more
I've given this four stars as it's closer to that than three.

This book put me in mind of the last Auster novel I read, Leviathan - parts of it are wonderful but sometimes whole sections really detract from the overall effect. The parts of the story detailing the 'star' of the book, a long-forgotten silent film star - are brilliant - less so the overly dramatic (but oddly unemotional) build-up to the narrator's trip out to meet the man himself.

Auster's narrative voice is very unusual - the quiet...more
Patrick Karamazov
I swear to God, if I have to read another book about a writer. Or a book about a professor. Or a book about a writing professor who also writes books. Goddamn. I know you have to write what you know. But most of these damn writers went to college, became professors, and apparantally became writers. And so all these damn books are about developing writers who are going to college, or established writers who teach at a college, or former professors who quit their jobs to write a book. Can you bast...more
Reaching the chapter about the fall of Napoleon in the twenty-third book (misteries and wonders are twins, they are born together)...

Expect the unexpected they say, but once the unexpected happens, the last thing you expect is that it will happen again.

It sat in the car with us like a secret, like something that belonged to the domain of small rooms and nocturnal thoughts and must not to be exposed to the light of the day.

I wouldn't be allowed to have a future until I returned to the past.

I'm fighting myself between giving this a 3 1/2 or a 4 star rating.
I had never heard of Paul Auster before when I happened to run across this book in my local book store. I was intrigued by the title and the synopsis on the back of the book seemed curious. It sat on my shelf for a little while and was always something I looked forward to reading out of curiosity. I decided to read it because it isn't a very thick book, I thought I was in for a quick read and I was looking for a little mystery....more
I picked up this book because it was on the 1001 books list from 2006. I found this book both interesting and peculiar. It’s not one I would recommend. Honestly, I understand why it was dropped from said list in 2008.

There are moments of brilliance in the novel, and certainly, Auster knows how to turn a good phrase, but it was not enough. I thought some parts of the story were affectedly startling. (“Shock me, shock me, shock me, with that deviant behavior!”) So much so, that it really took away...more
Carl Brush
What a run. I was wondering a couple of months ago if I’d be able to get together a decent top ten for ’08, now I’ve got the wonderful task of maybe naming a top twelve or so and still counting.
The Latest wonder is Paul Auster’s Book of Illusions. Its action and storytelling is linear and straightforward; however, Illusions is nonetheless artful and complex. Oh, and by the way, I suddenly find myself with still another definition to add to my list of descriptions for Postmodernism. “Auster,” s...more
Juliette Straub
The Book of Illusions
Paul Auster
Dark Fiction

The Book of Illusions is about a man named David Zimmer. His wife and kids died in a plane crash recently and he is on a spiral downwards. He is on leave from work and uses all of his money on alcohol and bad movies. While on leave from work he gets a huge sum of money from the life insurance he had on his family. He decides to give a portion of it away and finds other ways to use the rest. During one of his many drunk couch potato sessions he co...more
David Zimmer, the protagonist of Paul Auster’s The Book of Illusions, comes very close to committing suicide after his wife and children are killed in an airplane crash. He’s saved by his strange obsession with a silent-film comedian called Hector Mann, who disappeared for good in 1929, just before the era of “talkies” and who is believed to be dead. Zimmer makes it his mission to see all of Mann’s silent films and writes a book about this little-known figure; after his book is published, he rec...more
Jul 20, 2010 Matias rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Matias by: Kepa Moreno
Magnífica. Después de un comienzo un tanto irregular (para mi gusto) la historia de David Zimmer me ha conquistado. Se trata de una novela que da la impresión de tener infinito trabajo detrás, de una complejidad técnica con la que la mayoría de escritores no pueden ni soñar; y que Paul Auster ofrece estructuralmente impecable y escrita en primera persona. Insisto en que sobretodo me ha impresionado el dominio del autor, la extensísima exhibición de recursos literarios, es la obra de un experto.

Like typical Auster, easy to read but interesting questions to think about. I'll quote from a review that I think sums it up: "If a tree falls in a forest with nobody around, does it make a sound? At one point in his 10th novel, The Book of Illusions, Paul Auster briefly refers to this philosophical concept. If a man, however, lives a life that nobody else notices, did he really live? That's the real debate that he proposes with this novel." In this book Auster deals not only with writing as he...more
Just like one of its main themes, i.e. bringing things and people 'back from the dead' in a metaphorical way, this book has been the first one I have been able to read with complete attention and enthusiasm in a long time, having been in a post-PhD (permanent head damage) stupor and allergy against recreational reading.

Paul Auster is a master, indeed.. The book, despite its style being a bit on the terse, dry side, is a perfectly composed tapestry of mysterious, witty and ironic plot elements....more
Como en algunas otras de sus novelas, Auster nos ofrece un personaje cuya vida da un giro inesperado. En este caso, luego de que el protagonista, David Zimmer, escribe la biografía de un oscuro actor de los años 20, recibe la visita de una mujer que lo obliga a viajar con ella. En ese viaje nos adentraremos en su propia vida y en la de Hector Mann, el actor de cine mudo. Auster es un hábil narrador, capaz de crear fábulas sobre la existencia, con un estilo que mezcla al novelista clásico con el...more
De nuevo Paul Auster visita sus temas y episodios favoritos (el creador que no puede crear, los sufrimientos que llevan al límite, los encuentros imposibles); y Auster es un narrador magistral. Pero la historia --por lo demás desoladora y entrañable en su cuestionamiento de todas las ideas vigentes sobre la posteridad y la memoria-- suena a varias otras de las que ya le conocemos. El libro es menos original, menos audaz que otros, y se nota.
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The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster 15 51 Aug 01, 2014 01:19PM  
Boxall's 1001 Bo...: September {2008} Discussion -- THE BOOK OF ILLUSIONS by Paul Auster 25 218 Jun 11, 2009 08:40PM  
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Paul Auster is the bestselling author of Report from the Interior, Winter Journal, Sunset Park, Invisible, The Book of Illusions, and The New York Trilogy, among many other works. He has been awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature, the Prix Médicis Étranger, the Independent Spirit Award, and the Premio Napoli. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Ac...more
More about Paul Auster...
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“We all want to believe in impossible things, I suppose, to persuade ourselves that miracles can happen.” 77 likes
“What matters is not how well you can avoid trouble, but how you cope with trouble when it comes.” 12 likes
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