Blair's Reviews > The Book of Illusions

The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
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's review
Aug 08, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: contemporary, 2000-09-release, library-books
Read in August, 2011 , read count: 1

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 Hector's few movies, David channels his obsession into a book about the actor's work. However, the story really begins some time after this, when David receives a mysterious letter containing some startling news about Hector.

The Book of Illusions displays many characteristics of Auster's typical style, most noticeably the constant presence of symbolism, the perceived significance of art and the line between reality and (as the title suggests) illusion. Here, rather than the emphasis being on language and writing, the focus is on Hector's films and their visual impact, though of course the power of storytelling is still key. When David discovers that Hector made some films that were never seen by anyone else, he questions whether art has any importance if it is not shared with and experienced by an audience. David's ruminations are mirrored in various ways throughout the narrative - David withdraws from life, shuts himself away and becomes invisible, so it seems ironic that he becomes obsessed with a silent movie star; Hector makes a film called 'Mr. Nobody' in which he literally becomes invisible, and then, in his real life, he disappears; another character, Alma, is made more visible by a large birthmark on her face, yet she feels this gives her the ability to instantly see others' true characters through their reactions to her appearance.

There are elements of the story that are, from a distance, completely implausible. The manner of David and Alma's first meeting is really quite ridiculous, and certainly unbelievable, as is the speedy development of their relationship. But I think this is where the genius of Auster's writing really lies, in suspending the reader's disbelief and immersing you so deeply into the story that these strange events seem believable. I can imagine that the book won't work for everyone - some may find the lengthy descriptions of unseen, nonexistent films dull (I really enjoyed them), and there's a curious... quietness about it all - a very subdued feel. This is not a deeply thrilling novel, more of a restrained but haunting little tale. On balance I think I personally prefer Oracle Night, but there is plenty to recommend this story, especially for fans of the author. (If you're not already acquainted with Auster, I'd still recommend The New York Trilogy as a primer.)
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08/08/2011 page 220

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message 1: by Myriam (last edited Sep 22, 2012 11:41AM) (new)

Myriam hi blair, it would be great if we keep in touch, i really need your help !!

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