Paul Auster is my new favorite writer. I canít put his work down; I share it with friends. Itís extremely difficult to remain objective. Quite honestly, heís marvelous, one of the most imaginative and surprising American writers Iíve ever had the pleasure to read.
The Book of Illusions is Austerís tenth novel. Others include Leviathan, Timbuktu and Moon Palace (my favorite thus far). He has also written screenplays (including the movie
Smoke, featuring Harvey Keitel), poetry and memoir. Like much of Austerís fiction, this book deals with oft-repeated themes: characters who are writers; fathers and sons; men and their friends; men and women; memory; grand adventures and voyages; coincidence; impetuosity; death. Stories are told within stories, within stories. All the characters in Austerís novels are highly eccentric, good people not following the typical American dream. There is nothing ordinary here. In fact, Auster seems to heartily dislike the typical American lifestyle. Rather, creative, almost outsider people - lost people, people on voyages, people trying to reconnect to the living and to the dead - populate his stories.
In The Book of Illusions, a man loses his wife and two sons in a plane crash and must somehow continue to live. A professor at a college in Vermont, David Zimmer takes a sabbatical, holes up, at first drinks immoderately, and then works on various writing projects. The most important is a book on a somewhat unknown film director and comedian, Hector Mann. Zimmer goes around the world to watch his films and to take extensive notes, then returns to Vermont to complete the project. ď I wrote the book in less than nine monthsÖ I was in the book, and
the book was in my head, and as long as I stayed inside my head, I could go on writing the book. ÖI wasnít capable of being in the world, and I knew that if I tried to go back into it before I was ready, I would be crushed. So I holed up in that small apartment and spent my days writing about Hector Mann.Ē Zimmerís book is published, and he moves on to other writing and translating projects, all the time remaining a hermit, not seeking human contact.
Mann has been assumed to be dead for decades - sixty years, in fact - but suddenly he turns up. A beautiful, seductive woman visits Zimmer to convince him to come with her to meet Mann as he is dying. Thatís all I will reveal of the complex, fascinating plot.
The The Book of Illusions is not my favorite Auster novel Ė I could put it down for hours, even for a day. But itís still terrific. The plot is incredibly clever, including the inclusion of parts of a screenplay, which Auster actually has written, and is now available in book form (The Inner Life of Martin Frost ). There are plots within plots, surprising relationships, unpredictable twists and turns. I canít recommend Austerís work highly enough.
This novel would probably most appeal to those who love film, especially the era of silent film,
or to those who have lost hope only to find it again through meaningful work and new relationships.
As a reviewer, I sure hope Iíve created the illusion of being objective. For bigger illusions, read Austerís works.