And we reach the last of the Ten Favourite Books list: Paul Auster’s The Book of Illusions which was published in 2002 and I received and read in Christmas of that year. I have eight of Auster’s books in my shelves and this is my favourite.
Set in the 1980s, The Book of Illusions tells the story of David Zimmer, a literature professor who loses his wife and two sons in a plane crash. At the beginning of the book, David is mired in grief, drinking heavily, rarely showering or eating, unable to cope with his loss and contemplating suicide. One evening he is watching television when a clip from an old silent movie starring Hector Mann makes him laugh: ‘That might not sound important, but it was the first time I had laughed at anything since June, and when I felt that unexpected spasm rise up through my chest and begin to rattle around in my lungs, I understood that I hadn’t hit bottom yet, that there was still some piece of me that wanted to go on living.’
This ignites an obsession in David. He decides to watch all of Hector’s films and write a book about them, and also to find out more about why Hector suddenly disappeared in the 1929 just as his career was taking off. (At this point I’ll stop revealing the plot and if you want to read the book I’ll caution you against reading any other reviews as too many of them give away the entire story. Bastards!)
Auster is known for his self-referential metafiction, and often takes authors as his subject matter, but The Book of Illusions is a more straightforward story than many of his other novels, which can take so many tricky twists and turns that they disorientate the reader. Every re-reading of an Auster novel reveals something new, a coincidence, a reference that was missed the first time. I lost myself in this re-read, nearly finishing the book in one sitting, and it was even more enjoyable second time around.
If you read this and enjoy it, I’d recommend In The Country of Lost Things as your next Auster read.