Is Life Itself Not an Illusion?

The Book of Illusions, by Paul Auster
Professor David Zimmer is a broken man following a plane crash that killed his wife and two young sons. Overcome with grief, he drowns his sorrows in booze until one night, as he watches a tv documentary, he bursts out laughing at the sight of Hector Mann acting in a silent comedy from the 1920’s. When he learns that the actor disappeared without a trace in 1929 Zimmer is sufficiently intrigued to try to find out more about Mann and his work. Enthralled with Mann’s genius in both creating and acting in physical comedy, Zimmer devotes the following year to tracking down Mann’s movies and writing a book about this man who has been an enigma ever since his disappearance. This is just the beginning of Zimmer’s journey and soon he finds himself more closely involved with Hector Mann’s story than he could ever have imagined.

Paul Auster is in top form in this book and the storytelling is engrossing. For nearly a whole chapter, Zimmer describes one of Hector Mann’s comedies in great detail—giving a scene by scene description of the cast, the action, the sets, the various facial expressions, right down to Mann’s skillful mustache twitches—which are apparently prominently featured in his movies. What I found fascinating was that while this exercise might have become tedious, on the contrary, he managed to make the description of this silent movie absolutely captivating and I quickly suspended disbelief and indeed started imagining that this movie truly does exist. This is only one of the many layers of illusions in this book. This story lingers on well after the last lines have been read. It’s is my third Paul Auster novel so far, but something tells me there will be a few more.

I rated this book: ★★★★½

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