Erik's Reviews > The Book of Illusions

The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
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's review
Dec 28, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: bepretentious, detailed-review

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 film, but I still stick to it. I have no problem trashing Plath's Bell-jar, regardless of its supposed literary merit or historical significance, because it bored and annoyed me.

But getting to the point of this book, let me break it down for you literary thugs: there is a man whose family dies in an accident. He is depressed, but then he sees a silent comedy on TV and laughs for the first time in long while. He then decides to write about the star of this silent comedy, a man named Hector Mann. In the course of this, he finds out that Hector Mann disappeared, but he may actually still be alive!!! Stuff ensues, there are some themes brought up, there's some angst, there's some sex, you know the drill. And don't worry none of that's spoiler material, all on the first page basically.

Worth reading for a few pieces of stellar writing. I was particularly impressed by how Auster writes about a film that doesn't actually exist. I bought into it, I was convinced. It's a story within a story (within a story within a story ad nauseam), and it's true that the inner stories are better told than the outer ones. I'm cool with that.

In summary, though: "Paul Auster, you bastard!" is my review. If you likewise enjoy calling famous authors bastards, then I recommend this book to you highly.

As a side note, a result of this novel, I had to add a new shelf called "bepretentious." Just read some of the other, actually useful reviews and you'll see what I mean.
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01/31/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Lara Gardner I could not agree with your review more. Just got to the end and I have to exclaim the same. "Paul Auster, you bastard!"

message 2: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay Delorenzis But the thing is a work of fiction. It's all an illusion. Why do you let illusions depress you? I thought the work was brilliant, and the joke's on the reader.

Erik Uh... is your question really why do I let literature emotionally impact me?

Why else would I be reading fiction?

message 4: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay Delorenzis The book could be depressing, but I think Auster is simply having fun with the reader. The detail in which he describes silent movies that never existed was stunning. I had to Google the name Hector Mann because he had me convinced, at one point, he was a real silent screen actor. He never existed. But many times we make decisions based on something we believe we need to have. There is a deep philosophy that many of our desires are illusionary. That is a popular philosophy that originated in Asia, and is something the Ancient Greek philosopher have written about.

Erik It has been some time since last I read this book. I wrote this review a year ago but it has been at least an additional year or two since I actually read it.

However, as I recall, there are some depressing elements; love broken by tragedy. Art & inspiration & genius hidden away.

While the specific events in the book are fictional and therefore illusions, they evoke the emotion of real events. I am a writer as well and whenever I write, say, the death of a beloved character, I feel sorrow. Because I understand that while I could just as easily unwrite this character's death, the emotional impact is real. Its foundations are drenched in reality, in events that have truly happened.

So when I said that his books are depressing, I mean that they are depressing in the way that they remind us, or at least me, of the sorrows we face in life.

(And in response to the philosophy: I am a Jamesian Pragmatist, i.e. I concede that the belief in a thing renders that thing real. So if we desire something, whether we actually 'need' it or not, the desire is real.)

Tarah Luke Loved your review and had the same reaction, but I admit that I thought it was going too good for Zimmer to be true and was expecting something bad to happen-- doesn't make it hurt less when it does though! I also was enthralled with his writing about films that don't exist, and I really want to see them now. Thanks for a great review.

Erik Thanks for the kind comment, Tarah. Always nice to see people appreciate the reviews I wrote so long ago. Gives a sense of the longevity of things.

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