by Paul Auster
"Six months after losing his wife and two young sons in an airplane crash, Vermont professor David Zimmer spends his waking hours mired in a blur of alcoholic grief and self-pity. Then, watching television one night, he stumbles upon a clip from a lost film by silent comedian Hector Mann. Zimmer's interest is piqued, and he soon finds himself embarking on a journey around the world to research a book on this mysterious figure, who vanished from sight in 1929 and has been presumed dead for sixty years.
When the book is published the following year, a letter turns up in Zimmer's mailbox bearing a return address from a small town in New Mexico inviting him to meet Hector. Torn between doubt and belief, Zimmer hesitates, until one night a strange woman appears on his doorstep and makes the decision for him, changing his life forever." (From the back of the Picador edition.)
People may say what they will about the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, but if it weren't for that list I may never have discovered Paul Auster and that would have been a shame. No matter his topic or how odd his presentation, he engages me so deeply that I inevitably get to the end and either yearn for more, or, as in the case of Timbuktu, I'm so emotionally wrung out that I couldn't take anymore even if it was offered.
By the end of The Book of Illusions, I was all set to find some DVDs of Hector Mann's films until I remembered he's not real. I wanted to experience for myself the magic of the works described so vividly in the book and to suddenly realize that wasn't possible was almost like a slap in the face. The book deeply explores the many people we are inside, the person we choose to present to the world at different times and who those personae belong to, so the need to come to terms with the fiction of all the creations in their entirety was an odd sensation. I could have sworn I knew them for real! Which, I believe, was part of the point. Who, including ourselves, do we know for real? And do we need to really know someone for that particular relationship to be meaningful to us or to be a force that shapes our lives?
I said when I read Auster's Travels In The Scriptorium that it made me want to go back and read his older work because many previous characters found their way into that novel. The Book of Illusions has only further encouraged me because I believe I recognize a couple of characters and the title of Travels In The Scriptorium is mentioned specifically. I still feel like Auster is playing games with me. And I like it!
NOTICE: (Updated March 5, 2010)
Beginning December 19, 2009, Books 'N Border Collies will be posting but only intermittently while I pursue personal goals. I plan to share some reading I'm doing, but there will be no reviews. I will, however, be sharing my exploration of vegetarian cooking and the cookbooks and websites I use to educate myself. I hope you enjoy it!