Friday, December 5, 2008

The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster

I picked up this book because it was on the 1001 books list from 2006. I found this book both interesting and peculiar. It’s not one I would recommend. Honestly, I understand why it was dropped from said list in 2008.

There are moments of brilliance in the novel, and certainly, Auster knows how to turn a good phrase, but it was not enough. I thought some parts of the story were affectedly startling. (“Shock me, shock me, shock me, with that deviant behavior!”) So much so, that it really took away from the good parts of the book for me.

The book is basically about a professor, David Zimmer, whose wife and two sons are killed in a tragic plane crash. Auster’s description of Zimmer’s pain, to me, made him a very sympathetic character. In his haze of grief, Zimmer comes across an obscure silent film actor, Hector Mann, who mysteriously disappeared at the height of his career. Zimmer becomes intrigued by him, and sets out to watch all of his silent films, which are housed in different places throughout the world. +/-

He becomes absorbed in the work. Then one day, he gets a note that states that not only is Hector alive, but he wants to meet Zimmer. A little bit after that is when Auster looses me. There are still bouts of good writing, but the plot suffers, and by the end, I was rolling my eyes.

I enjoyed Auster’s creation of Hector Mann. The book as a whole could almost be called a frame to Hector Mann’s biography. We learn about his work, what he symbolizes, and eventually every nasty detail of his existence. And, hearkening back to the title, Auster explores the differences between what is real and what is an illusion, and even in the end, we are left wondering which is which. This appealed to me. But, besides a few passages I flagged as I was reading, there was a whole lot in the novel I felt I could do without.

If I could take out the second half of the book, hand it back to Auster and say, “Try again, please,” I think I would be interested in a second take. But as it is, the sour apple ruins the rest in the barrel. I wouldn’t recommend it.

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