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The Book of Illusions

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  22,624 ratings  ·  1,276 reviews
Six months after losing his wife and two young sons, Vermont Professor David Zimmer spends his waking hours mired in a blur of alcoholic grief and self-pity. Then one night, he stumbles upon a clip from a lost film by silent comedian Hector Mann. His interest is piqued, and he soon finds himself embarking on a journey around the world to research a book on this mysterious ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published July 13th 2003 by Picador Paper (first published 2002)
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NannyOgg Only if you enjoy page-long, detailed descriptions of mustaches.
Christopher Febles Hi - far be it from me to judge, but Leviathan and Moon Palace are just wonderful. Thought-provoking, gripping, detailed, bleak and hopeful. Love it w…moreHi - far be it from me to judge, but Leviathan and Moon Palace are just wonderful. Thought-provoking, gripping, detailed, bleak and hopeful. Love it when he does first-person narration; you are privy to all the character's thoughts, anxieties, faults, hopes, desires. Also one of my favorites, though off the beaten path, a little wild in its structure and painfully long, is the 780-page long "4321." That was an odyssey but well worth the trip. And all his books are a welcome to Brooklyn.

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Ahmad Sharabiani
The Book of Illusions, Paul Auster

The Book of Illusions is a novel by American writer Paul Auster, published in 2002. It was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2004.

Set in the late 1980s, the story is written from the perspective of David Zimmer, a university professor who, after losing his wife and children in a plane crash, falls into a routine of depression and isolation. After seeing one of the silent comedies of Hector Mann, an actor missing since the 1920s, he
Richard Derus
Jan 23, 2012 rated it did not like it
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.
I have changed my mind about this book. The first pages were tough to read and I wasn't sure if I could make it to the end. But the story grew on me. This book has been on my shelves for a long time, the first Auster I bought. I just love Brooklyn Follies, was intrigued by Man in the Dark and Auggie Wren's Xmas story is great as well. The story line is intriguing: A man looses his wife and two children in a plane crash. In sorrow, he is fascinated by a silent movie actor, who disappeared from th ...more
Apr 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: american
Born Again and Longing for It All to End

I’m guessing, but I don’t think this book was ever seriously edited. It appears to have been written in a continuous stream, not of consciousness but of wherever Austen’s characters wanted to take him at the moment to extricate themselves from frequent literary culs-de-sac. And this includes an immense amount of random detail of relevance to neither the plot nor the characters. The result is a fair short story imitating a rather bad middling size novel.

Will Byrnes
Sep 15, 2008 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Steven Godin
Being drawn into Paul Auster's fiction was one of the reasons my reading became more widespread. This story grabbed me from the off, and was indeed difficult to put down. Ok so he is an acquired taste, but there is just something about his writing that hooks you in and doesn't let go so easily. The story here is both captivating and strangely mysterious. It's all about digging into the past in quite an obsessive manner, just who was Hector Mann?, what happened to him?, is he still alive?, grippe ...more
Dec 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Paul Auster obviously has a thing for men who linger between reality and nothingness. Men whose realities take a turn towards the vague, so much so, that they seem to dress themselves in the vagueness that surrounds them. Men who lose everything or men who never really had anything to begin with. Men who seem to be caught for good inside an illusion along with everyone that surrounds them. Now they’re here, now they’re not. There are two of those men in The Book of Illusions: the narrator and He ...more
Ian "Marvin" Graye

Multi-Dimensional Narrative

Paul Auster uses multiple dimensions of narrative to structure this story of Professor David Zimmer and silent film actor Hector Mann (born Chaim Mandelbaum).

The first and most straightforward tells us about Zimmer and the loss of his wife (Helen) and two sons (Todd and Marco) in a fatal plane crash in 1985. Understandably, Zimmer has failed to recover from his loss, and has suffered from depression in the intervening years: "When a man has nothing to look for
May 28, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  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.
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
Jun 16, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ala-notables, 1001
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alika Tanaka Yarnell
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
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
George Georgiadis
Jun 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hamburger
Μου θύμισε εκείνη τη φράση που ειπώθηκε δια στόματος Μάθιου Μακόναχι στην πρώτη σεζόν του True Detective: "To realize that all your life, all your love, all your hate, all your memories, all your pain, it was all the same thing. It was all the same dream, a dream that you had inside a locked room, a dream about being a person". Μεγάλος Auster και πάλι. ...more
Nancy Oakes
Drawing obvious parallels between the character of Hector Mann and the character of David Zimmer, Auster explores redefinition of the self. In his own circumstance, Zimmer, a professor at a college in Vermont, gets a phone call one day that his wife and two children have been killed in a plane crash. He is left alone, and the weight of his grief leaves him to want to do nothing. He contemplates suicide from time to time. Then one day of mindless television watching something happens...he laughs ...more
A strong 4.5, highly recommended, and an excellent borrow from my housemate. Clearly I should nick her stuff more often.
Daniel Chaikin
Oct 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What if it‘s all for nothing?

David, our narrator gets obsessed with an obscure 1920's-era silent film star Hector Mann, who made 12 silent comedies and then disappeared in 1928, as in he was a missing person and was never to found. David chases down and studies all his films and then publishes a book on them. Some time later, after the book is published and made a small number of sales, he gets a letter by someone claiming to be Hector's wife inviting him to meet Hector Mann in person, who is li
Mar 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
The Reading Bibliophile
I read this more than ten years ago, so I cannot write a detailed review. But I can still remember the feeling of eagerly reading this book. And that's a good memory. ...more
Apr 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Paul Auster is always concerned with ethereal nature of identity and The Book of Illusions is no exception. Some reviewers have mocked his insistence on probing the depths of this subject and even suggested that sum of Illusions is less than its sometimes brilliant parts. I personally found this novel to be breathtaking in its scope, tone and emotional draw. While Illusions does tread on areas of personal identity and oblivion as first sketched in New York Trilogy, it moves into uncharted waters ...more
Dec 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novel, kindle
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
Nov 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Almost everything is perfect about Auster. He portrays perfectly the lives of people who had frustrating losses but trying to cling to life; who made big mistakes but trying to compensate them with functional and right acts and who lost their ways somehow but trying to make their existence meaningful again and do their best to the end. Accordingly his fiction always gives me inspiration. Whenever i read his books, i think about my life and my motivations, that's why i like reading him, he always ...more
Jan 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a roller-coaster of a ride. It starts off a bit slow and then careens you into turns and dips (a lot of dips!) with nary a chance for you to catch your breath before you are off again.

A tremendous amount happens in this story and in the story-within-the-story (yes, a typical Auster thing) though the plot always seems to serve Auster's 'philosophy' and themes.

Part of what I said of his Oracle Night: "... well-written throughout (and written in a way to keep one reading)" can also
Mar 28, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Jul 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Usually, Im not used to experience reading a book without any previous suggestion. I often choose them with regard to their reputation; but that day, I was too tired of walking along the streets, performing my university chores till 1 PM. I wonder how a bookstore just appeared in front of me and I was attracted to its yard.picking my first unknown book , the book of illusions attracted me. I chose it sensationally( I hadn't heared the name). Now, it's 2AM and i am pretty glad and satisfied of fi ...more
Daniel Polansky
This sucked. Sucked sucked sucked sucked sucked. Utterly mediocre. Shoddily written, never pretty and often not even competent (a rough third of the book consists of the narrator describing movies which don't exist). The characters are paper thin, their motivations largely nonsensical. Its got Auster's usual obsessions about identity, and writing as a form of creation, and blah blah blah, but it doesn't lead into anything meaningful. This was my third Auster book, as mentioned, and I feel confid ...more
May 14, 2008 rated it did not like it
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
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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

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