Paul Auster’s Book of Illusions

December 6, 2007

The Raw Shark Texts, which I’ve mentioned that I love, made several references to the works of Paul Auster, in particular to his 1982 biography The Invention of Solitude. I was intrigued, never having read his work before. Invention wasn’t available at my library, but The Book of Illusions, a novel from 2003, was available, so I checked it out (literally and figuratively).

The book tells the story of David Zimmer, a university professor struggling with the loss of his wife and sons, who is drawn in by the comedic silent films of the mysterious Hector Mann. The films are the first thing that made him laugh since his loss, and he begins to investigate the film, ultimately writing a critical review of the films. Mann disappeared soon after his last silent film was made, and has largely been assumed to be dead. After publication of his novel, Zimmer is contacted by a woman claiming to be Mann’s wife, who says that Mann is very much alive, has read Zimmer’s critique, and wants to meet him. Zimmer investigates and learns the true story of Mann’s fate, and also comes to terms with his own loss in the process.

I enjoyed the book a great deal. Auster constructs a vivid world of loss and remorse, and I liked the experience of spending time in that world. At the same time, after listening to Auster fans go on about transcendentalism and meaning, I expected more of a philosophical treatise, which this is not. Maybe I’m a little disappointed by that, but I also avoided the agonizing pain that often comes from reading such treatises. This is just a very good, if not great, novel.

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