Auster's tale of a man who writes about a comic silent film star in order to suppress the despair he feels over the loss of his family is engaging and well written. The man, David Zimmer, has retreated completely from society, and hides from his friends when he goes on his infrequent shopping trips to town. He is unable to cope with his discomfort at a dinner party that he is finally coerced into attending, and behaves in a cruel and irresponsible way to those who love him and try to give him support. He finally meets his match in a young woman who drags him to New Mexico to meet the film star, who most people assume is dead. What happens next is a fast paced run through extremes, both emotional and behavioural. While I enjoyed the book, I thought that the amount of detail provided, both about Zimmer's film analysis, and later analysis of a French write whom he has been asked to translate, serve to detour the storylines and make for an unduly heterogenous mix of styles. At times, I felt like a high school student who is required to learn calculus: what use is this to me? Or in this case, what will all these details - about the film star's white suit and twitching moustache - have to do with the main story at hand? I'm still not sure why I took those detours.Alberto
De nuevo Paul Auster visita sus temas y episodios favoritos (el creador que no puede crear, los sufrimientos que llevan al límite, los encuentros imposibles); y Auster es un narrador magistral. Pero la historia --por lo demás desoladora y entrañable en su cuestionamiento de todas las ideas vigentes sobre la posteridad y la memoria-- suena a varias otras de las que ya le conocemos. El libro es menos original, menos audaz que otros, y se nota.Alika Yarnell
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 strange life. But the book takes several turns and we get our narrator back--with interest--as a series of events unfold in a haunting and devastating way. Auster is a master at seamlessly weaving complex themes into his prose without being heavy-handed or at the sacrifice of a good and entertaining story. Hats off to you, sir.Laura
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 ChateaubriandOpening 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 becomes obsessed by a silent comedian Hector Mann who was living in a retired small village in New Mexico.When he finally meets Hector, his life will change forever.John
I've given this four stars as it's closer to that than three.This book put me in mind of the last Auster novel I read, Leviathan - parts of it are wonderful but sometimes whole sections really detract from the overall effect. The parts of the story detailing the 'star' of the book, a long-forgotten silent film star - are brilliant - less so the overly dramatic (but oddly unemotional) build-up to the narrator's trip out to meet the man himself. Auster's narrative voice is very unusual - the quietest, stillest voice I've ever read of any writer, and when it works, it really is special. But on occasion the characters are univolving and huge dumps of info concerning characters sometimes feel like they exist in lieu of plot. For all this though, Auster's an utterly fascinating writer (how the Blue Stone Ranch got it's name in the book is so ridiculous it should never work - instead, it works beautifully) and most - if not all - of the time you end up marveling at how he does what he does.Schuyler
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 stands out in my mind. I think it's best for writers to stay away from sex scenes in 'literary fiction', and if you are going to attempt such a thing, better keep it nice and vague. The creation of the silent film star Hector Mann is one of the redeeming qualities of this novel.Doug
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.Carl Brush
What a run. I was wondering a couple of months ago if I’d be able to get together a decent top ten for ’08, now I’ve got the wonderful task of maybe naming a top twelve or so and still counting. The Latest wonder is Paul Auster’s Book of Illusions. Its action and storytelling is linear and straightforward; however, Illusions is nonetheless artful and complex. Oh, and by the way, I suddenly find myself with still another definition to add to my list of descriptions for Postmodernism. “Auster,” says the Powell’s website reviewer “could be postmodernism's poster child. Structurally overt, intellectually complex, metaphorically self-conscious, Auster explores surfaces in order to dig deep and borrows classical forms in order to reveal contemporary dissonance.” Exploring what that last sentence means could probably occupy a semester’s worth of seminar without achieving elucidation. But I digress. Professor David Zimmer loses wife and two sons in an airplane crash. Moreover, he’s the one who talked them into taking the particular flight responsible. Heavy with grief and guilt, he plunges into liquored-up isolation, eased somewhat by a sudden influx of cash from life insurance and a couple of other sources. He stumbles on a short film starring an obscure silent film actor who disappeared at the height of his career. The man’s films make him laugh for the first time since the tragedy. Being a professor, he starts his research and, predictably, his recovery. The predictability ends there. Zimmer publishes a book about the actor’s life and art (focusing on the art, investigating little about the disappearance/death) leaves it aside for another. Then the subject of the first book--the actor himself--emerges from the dead or disappeared. Maybe. It’s not clear which at first. The second book Zimmer has been working on is by and about the musings of a dead Frenchman circa the Revolution. It connects with events within and surrounding the first book in both subtle and obvious ways. Possibly “to reveal contemporary dissonance.” Whether all of this will result in the recovery or relapse of our erstwhile professor is unclear. Will he love again? Can he? The answers, even at the end, remain vague. It’s the search that seems to matter more than anything. And the choices. And the creation of the record of the search and discovery. Illusions is a fairly quick read, but it leaves echoes. I keep remembering scenes, lines, ideas. Wondering about I’m not exactly sure what, but it has to do with creation and art and destruction and the futility of aspirations of immortality. Or of destroying those aspirations. It’s a work that lives with you and a work that’s nice to live with. Try it.Blair
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 Hector's few movies, David channels his obsession into a book about the actor's work. However, the story really begins some time after this, when David receives a mysterious letter containing some startling news about Hector.The Book of Illusions displays many characteristics of Auster's typical style, most noticeably the constant presence of symbolism, the perceived significance of art and the line between reality and (as the title suggests) illusion. Here, rather than the emphasis being on language and writing, the focus is on Hector's films and their visual impact, though of course the power of storytelling is still key. When David discovers that Hector made some films that were never seen by anyone else, he questions whether art has any importance if it is not shared with and experienced by an audience. David's ruminations are mirrored in various ways throughout the narrative - David withdraws from life, shuts himself away and becomes invisible, so it seems ironic that he becomes obsessed with a silent movie star; Hector makes a film called 'Mr. Nobody' in which he literally becomes invisible, and then, in his real life, he disappears; another character, Alma, is made more visible by a large birthmark on her face, yet she feels this gives her the ability to instantly see others' true characters through their reactions to her appearance.There are elements of the story that are, from a distance, completely implausible. The manner of David and Alma's first meeting is really quite ridiculous, and certainly unbelievable, as is the speedy development of their relationship. But I think this is where the genius of Auster's writing really lies, in suspending the reader's disbelief and immersing you so deeply into the story that these strange events seem believable. I can imagine that the book won't work for everyone - some may find the lengthy descriptions of unseen, nonexistent films dull (I really enjoyed them), and there's a curious... quietness about it all - a very subdued feel. This is not a deeply thrilling novel, more of a restrained but haunting little tale. On balance I think I personally prefer Oracle Night, but there is plenty to recommend this story, especially for fans of the author. (If you're not already acquainted with Auster, I'd still recommend The New York Trilogy as a primer.)arafat
Like typical Auster, easy to read but interesting questions to think about. I'll quote from a review that I think sums it up: "If a tree falls in a forest with nobody around, does it make a sound? At one point in his 10th novel, The Book of Illusions, Paul Auster briefly refers to this philosophical concept. If a man, however, lives a life that nobody else notices, did he really live? That's the real debate that he proposes with this novel." In this book Auster deals not only with writing as he always does, but also with film-making -- which I found interesting, particularly the glimpse at the extinct world of silent films. It also made me reflect on the meaning of death.Ricardo Alfonso
Were it not for the erudite hand of Paul Auster, an author who I generally admire, this book probably would have received one star. However, by pure virtue of being Paul Auster and therefore writing in the style of Paul Auster, this book is spared my total derision and instead promoted to measured satisfaction.It is hard to say what this book is about, as even the self-referencing title suggests. It's about a man named David Zimmer, whose entire family died in a plane accident. It's about a man named Hector Mann, a silent movie star who mysteriously disappeared. It's about a woman named Alma Grund, who serves as the mediator between the previous two individuals. It's seemingly a book about people and their many different identities. The autobiography of Chateaubriand within the narrative serves as an interesting parallel to the overarching themes of the story. While it's certainly interesting to witness all these different people bend and morph as they attempt to adapt to their environments, the totality of the idea is never fully realized. I can't say much without spoiling key parts of the novel, but I could never truly get a handle on the characters' psychology. To put it a certain way, once I thought I understood Zimmer, the Nietzschean universe throws a fastball and Zimmer transmogrifies into a new human being without any logical change of progression. Ice melting into water, I can understand, but ice immediately sublimating into vapor? That requires a serious explanation that is never received. Don't even get me started on the absurdist paradox that is Frieda Spelling.All this would be infinitely more bearable if there were a unified narrative to comprehend it in. Instead, we are given a story within a story within a story within a story. The only thread that remains intact throughout the entire novel is that of the story of Hector Mann. The others are merely interspersed in random intervals so that they can say their thing and quickly evaporate. For example, the first chapter is devoted to David Zimmer's family tragedy and his subsequent coping mechanisms. After that chapter, though, we never hear of this again. At least, not directly. While I sense that this is a purposeful direction on Auster's part, seeing as how the book itself resembles a sole entity with multiple different "lives," it is still rather daunting to keep up with.The only other real complaint I have is the pacing. The first half of the novel drags on for far too long, while the second half of the novel seems to rush through events without rest, though that could mostly be due to the juxtaposition with the first half. It's actually safe to say that the actual story doesn't really begin until page 150 or so. The last chapter, especially, is very head-scratching in its unpalatable excuse for a resolution.The positives are all due to Auster's style. He is above all an excellent writer, and when he sits down to meditate on the fragility of self or the "Death of the Author," it's all very poignant and refreshing. His decision to remove quotation marks from all dialogue, a choice I found jarring at first, slowly grew on me until I found myself rather enjoying it. His ability to engross me in the minutiae of the novel are all to his credit, and what little I do learn from this novel doesn't go unappreciated.If you've read a lot of Paul Auster novels, or if you crave a literary experience to share with those around you, you won't be experiencing anything new with this one. However, if you care more for the art of the craft rather than the functionality, this one is definitely worth checking out.Khaoula
This was a very interesting book. To see a man losing everything and going into a sort of trance, completely losing himself as well. And find it again (or at least some of it) and then lose it one more time.This is the first Paul Auster book that I've read, and I definitely feel like diving into more of his books. Throughout the whole book, you can't help but sympathise with David throughout his tragedy. And then the story takes an interesting turn where it reveals the past of Hector Mann, a comedian who disappeared a long time ago.It's a very good read. I highly recommend it.Jill
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 ultimate goal - to explain how the supposed disapearance of a silent film actor affected the life of a professor and widower from Detroit. The world created in this book is done with such care and is so full of unexpected and tangential details that I found myself wondering if I wasn't perhaps reading a work of historical fiction rather than just a plain old novel. It's an amazingly well crafted narrative, heartwrenching and hopeful at the same time. A man's life is an illusion to all except those who share in it.Adam
An elegant book of Austerian (obviously) mystery and coincidence, penetrated by the ghostly aura of film, the ecstasy of encountering art, and the very real spectre of mortality. I read most of it the way Zimmer, in the book, encounters Mann's work, enraptured. In the last fifty pages or so, the book unfortunately starts to feel a bit clumsy, a bit hastily put-together, but the very end is as strong as the first two-thirds. I'm not sure where I predict this will rank when Auster's complete oeuvre is studied and read by literary enthusiasts a few decades from now... It is closer in quality to his major works, which include, for me, The New York Trilogy, Invisible, and the film Smoke, than it is to the books that feel more minor, like Sunset Park and The Brooklyn Follies. But there's enough really great stuff here that it might actually deserve to be considered alongside some of his better works. I have yet to read all of Auster's published output, but he remains one of few living authors whose work I'm always in the mood for, and always ready to return to.Alin G.
[Review in Romanian]Paul Auster îşi bazează Cartea Iluziilor pe o întrebare filozofică: dacă un om trăieşte o viaţă plină de însemnătate, însă pe care nimeni nu o cunoaşte, atunci am putea atesta asupra faptului ca acesta a trăit cu adevărat? Este o poveste mai apropiată de adevăr atunci când este văzută şi povestită ori se transformă într-o iluzie a percepţiei ascultătorului?Punctul de vedere al personajului narator al Cărţii Iluziilor este însă unul pragmatic: “If I never saw the moon, then the moon was never there.” Poate acest lucru face din această carte una dintre cele mai realiste lucrări ale lui Auster. Personajele sunt palpabile datorită faptului ca sunt influenţate de propriul punct de vedere asupra lucrurilor şi, în mod paradoxal, pentru că sunt văzute undeva la limita dintre realitate şi iluzie.Romanul se deschide cu o propoziţie cu dublu înţeles: “Everyone thought he was dead.” Aceasta se referă în primă instanţă la Hector Mann, actor şi regizor de filme mute, care a dispărut fără sens şi fără urma cândva în 1929 şi considerat a fi mort, însă pe măsură ce naraţiunea progresează, aceeaşi propoziţie devine valabilă şi pentru protagonistul Cărţii Iluziilor – David Zimmer. Viaţa lui Zimmer ca profesor universitar şi ca om ia sfârşit în clipa morţii tragice a familiei sale, soţia şi cei doi copii, într-un accident de avion. Rămas doar cu depresia şi cu gândul nehotărât de a-şi lua viaţa (dar fără a reuşi să îl pună vreodata în aplicare), David găseşte o urmă de viaţă într-un film mut, şi constată că un actor dintr-un film foarte vechi l-a făcut să râdă fără să-şi dea seama.Astfel David găseşte un scop, o modalitate de a-şi ocupa gândurile cu filmele lui Hector Mann prin a scrie o carte despre cele 12 filme pe care le făcuse înaintea dispariţii sale din lume. În acest fel, Zimmer ajunge un expert în filmografia lui Mann, reuşind să lege în cartea sa simbolurile din filme cu experienţele personale din viaţa tânărului actor, însă fără a încerca să afle misterul dispariţiei sale.Scrierea acestei cărţi îl ajută pe David să uite pentru moment tragedia suferită, iar odată cu publicarea ei, să revină treptat în lume, dedicându-se traducerii memoriilor lui Chateaubriand. Scriitorul francez dorise ca memoriile sale să fie publicate abia după moartea sa, însă situaţia financiară precară îl obligase să îşi vândă cartea pentru publicare. Simbolismul acestei alegeri pentru Zimmer începe să se contureze în momentul în care David primeşte o scrisoare din partea unei anume Frieda Spelling, care spune că este soţia lui Mann şi că Hector îşi doreşte foarte mult să îl cunoască.Abia aici putem spune că începe povestea lui Hector, cea spusă prin ochii lui David, în timp ce acesta îşi dezvoltă propria poveste. Cartea trece printr-o serie întreagă de simboluri – de la tema iluziei sau cum percepem ceva ca realitate până la temele izolării şi a salvării de sine prin scris – o temă esenţială aici pentru că se implică direct şi indirect în vieţile a trei dintre personaje. Este un roman care trece prin diferite vieţi, morţi şi renaşteri, toate dominate de conceptul iniţial: acestea au avut loc cu adevărat dacă nu le-a văzut nimeni?Apoi vine iluzia marelui ecran: toate imaginile unui film sunt iluzii care prezintă un adevăr, precum o fac şi cuvintele lui Auster. Vedem cum Hector prinde viaţă prin filmele sale în timp ce sunt văzute prin ochii lui David – ideile filmelor şi cum se raportează la viaţă acestuia din acel moment precum şi simbolurile puternice cu care sunt încărcate. Descrierile lui Auster trimit cititorul dincolo de o simplă analiză de film – te fac să îl vezi pe Hector Mann acolo sus pe marele ecran astfel încât ajungi să te întrebi dacă a fost la fel de real ca şi Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Bogart sau Jimmy Stewart.Cartea Iluziilor urmăreşte tiparul stilului austerian în care povestea în sine domină asupra mesajului, însă aici cititorul rămâne cu gândul la întrebările cu care autorul îşi creează romanul. Eu unul am rămas cu o dorinţă şi mai mare de a vedea un film cu unul dintre actorii menţionaţi anterior.