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The Book of Illusions
by Paul Auster
(Henry Holt, 2002)

Paul Auster's tenth novel reads like a eulogy with a lot of plot. For an often depressing three hundred page meditation on death, it's more fun than you might expect. David Zimmer, an academic who loses his wife and two young sons in a plane accident, distracts himself from grief by researching the work of Hector Mann, a silent movie comedian and film-maker who disappeared in 1929. Zimmer ends up writing a book on the obscure figure, and several months after publication, receives a mysterious letter inviting him to meet Hector Mann -- who had been presumed dead for almost sixty years.

The resulting story, which weaves Mann's past into Zimmer's present, has enough symbolism and symmetry to make any high school English teacher happy. Its most important Main Theme is of course the dying -- the death card pops up all the time, in the past and the present, in Hector's films and in the "real" world of the novel's characters. As simply a plot device, death works; cruel turns of fate make for riveting twists in the story. But there is lots of figurative dying too. For example, in one of Hector's allegorical films, a writer whose muse has come to him in the form of a lover, becomes anguished when the girl begins to die as soon as he completes the story he had been writing in her company. He throws the story into a fire, one page at a time, and she comes back to life.

Other Book Reviews:

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This is Not a Novel
David Markson
My Name is Red
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Nickel and Dimed On (Not) Getting By in America
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Spreading Misandry
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Zimmer, and Mann, become preoccupied with the idea that the act of art-making is inherently destructive, that the creative process is harmful. This is not a novel lacking in self-reflectiveness. But in contrast to the intellectual tone of its academic narrator, the novel's dialogue, which is quotation-mark-free, sometimes reads like a script from "Law & Order" - one can imagine the lines delivered in dry, tough-guy soundbites. Clearly realism wasn't exactly what Auster was shooting for. The author doesn't want his book to be seen as anything other than an illusion.

-- Christine Leahy




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