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The Book of Illusions [Paperback]

Paul Auster
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Sep 2003

One man's obsession with the mysterious life of a silent film star takes him on a journey into a shadow-world of lies, illusions, and unexpected love. After losing his wife and young sons in a plane crash, Vermont professor David Zimmer spends his waking hours mired in grief. Then, watching television one night, he stumbles upon a lost film by silent comedian Hector Mann, and remembers how to laugh . . .

Mann was a comic genius, in trademark white suit and fluttering black moustache. But one morning in 1929 he walked out of his house and was never heard from again. Zimmer's obsession with Mann drives him to publish a study of his work; whereupon he receives a letter postmarked New Mexico, supposedly written by Mann's wife, and inviting him to visit the great Mann himself. Can Hector Mann be alive? Zimmer cannot decide - until a strange woman appears on his doorstep and makes the decision for him, changing his life forever.

Written with breath-taking urgency and precision, this stunning novel plunges the reader into a universe in which the comic and the tragic, the real and the imagined, the violent and the tender dissolve into one another.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; New edition edition (4 Sep 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571212182
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571212187
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.6 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 496,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Auster is the best-selling author of Man in the Dark, The Brooklyn Follies, The Book of Illusions, The New York Trilogy, among many other works. In 2006 he was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature and inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Among his other honours are the Independent Spirit Award for the screenplay of Smoke and the Prix Medicis Etranger for Leviathan. He has also been short-listed for both the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (The Book of Illusions) and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction (The Music of Chance). His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Product Description


'The Book of Illusions is a masterpiece of storytelling.’ -- Time Out

'Probably the nearest I've come in recent years to finding the perfect novel ... a cracking story.'
-- Jane Asher, `My Six Best Books', Daily Express

‘A seething gothic tale of crime and guilt.’ -- Nicci Gerard – Observer

‘A stunning feat of imagination and likely the best book that Auster has written.’ -- Financial Times

‘An avalanche of incident, of sex, suicide and murder . . . compulsively exhilarating.’ -- Independent

‘Outstanding. This is, put simply, his best book.’ -- New Statesman

Book Description

One of Paul Auster's greatest novels, now in a stunning new look --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Auster at his very best 31 Mar 2010
Auster is one of the most critically acclaimed modern novelists of the United States. His novels are always complex and erudite and he loves modern American history and culture which serve as the backdrop for most of his stories. The book of illusions is for me his masterwork. It purports to be the biography of a silent movie star of the second rank, Hector Mann, who vanished mysteriously one day in 1929. There is so much to like and admire about the book, that I'm tempted merely to say "You must read it" and leave it there, but there are two qualities I must mention. The first is that Auster achieves a breathtaking atmosphere of authenticity about silent movie making and, in later decades, film scholarship of the silent era. The second is that his writing combines the clarity and simplicity of the very best journalism with literary and poetic decoration that both entertain and leave you gasping in admiration at his originality.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever, moving, entertaining 24 Mar 2009
I first came to Paul Auster via the New York Trilogy and since then, while enjoying his novels, I have been vaguely disappointed that nothing quite lived up to that first thrill. I'm happy to say that the Book of Illusions is easily the most enjoyable I've read since that first encounter.

It tells the story of David Zimmer, stuck in depression after the death of his family in a plane crash, slowly drinking himself to death. It is the description of mourning and the avoidance of painful memories which is the first touching highlight.

Zimmer is saved from himself by a glimpse of a film made by an obscure silent comedian, Hector Munro. Intrigued by the fact that his apparently lost movies have been sent to museums round the world from a mysterious source, Zimmer writes an account of Munro's films. The description of the movies is wonderful, feeling utterly authentic.

Thereafter the story becomes increasingly complex, as Zimmer is invited to meet the aging film star and his wife. Initially sceptical, no one has seen Munro since the 30s, he is eventually and memorably persuaded by the entrance of the strange and beautiful Alma.

Gradually, as Zimmer is sucked into their strange world we learn the full and shocking facts of Munro's life.

There are definite echoes of the style of the New York trilogy as elements of Hector's life resonanate and correspond with Zimmer's situation.

It is a novel about loss and mourning, about the nature of artistic muse, about sin and redemption and about the endurance of work after the death of the creator.

Finally the end is deeply tragic, but also not without a touch of hope.

So, in summary, intelligent, stimulating, moving and beautifully written. Very highly recommended.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not his best 23 Jan 2003
By A Customer
I'm a firm fan of Auster's novels - Leviathan is my favorite. While I enjoyed this, his latest, and have been interested to see it described by some critics as his best - for me this was a slight disappointment.
The premise is interesting, the characters are well drawn and during some sections (notably the story of Hector Mann's disappearing act) I sped through it fast. Ultimatley, however, I didn't really feel Auster was offering me anything new here. Perhaps the scope was not large enough, perhaps the themes were a little too familiar, or maybe having read some of his other novels my expectations have become a little high. Of course (and I hate to admit it) maybe I just missed something!
Make no mistake, this is a good novel, and very well written, but compared to some of his others I found myself strangley uninvolved. I would recommend Leviathan or Moon Palace over this.
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Page-turning literary mystery story 21 Oct 2002
By A Customer
David Zimmer, the protagonist in Paul Auster's compelling and elegant new novel, The Book of Illusions, finds solace from the grief of losing his wife and two sons in a plane crash by immersing himself in the films of silent comedy star, Hector Mann. An academic by profession, David writes a critical study of Mann's films, but, as the book is published, he is contacted by sources who claim that Hector Mann, who hasn't been seen for almost sixty years and is presumed dead, is alive and living in New Mexico. Fuelled by the desire to resolve the puzzle of Hector's missing years, David travels to the ranch where Hector now lives and where he and his wife have spent the last six decades making mysterious films that have never been screened in public.
The unswerving compulsion to unearth, and ultimately understand, another person's identity is a theme that Auster returns to frequently in his work, in novels such as New York Trilogy and Leviathan, and yet here it is more brilliantly realised than ever. The story-within-a-story motif is ever-present but the different strands are so ingeniously interwoven that this familiar technique never seems predictable or tired. Also present is Auster's continuing fascination with the medium of film - he has written several successful screenplays for films such as Smoke and Blue in the Face - and he provides exquisitely detailed descriptions of several of Hector Mann's films.
Brimming with plot twists and turns, The Book of Illusions is a gripping, page-turning literary mystery story, but it is also a complex and genuinely moving meditation on the nature of identity and how any attempt to live vicariously through another's life will always be doomed to failure.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars The Book Of Illusions IS THE ILLUSION!!!
Oh dear, dear, dear, dear, dear!
This had such promise - David Zimmer loses his family in plane crash, then spends his time researching
a silent era comedian, who simply... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mr. John Frank Herbert
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very pleased
Published 1 month ago by Mrs Lesley S Larsen
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 3 months ago by claude
3.0 out of 5 stars 'Is this supposed to mean something?' And it was all going so well..
What is it about me and Paul? We just never hit it off; why I don't remember. It's like, Auster? He's the one I don't read. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Simon Barrett
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
Outstanding. One of the most entertaining books I have ever read. Beautiful and exciting from start to finish. Truly brilliant.
Published 19 months ago by Mr Philip Rodgers
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Dazzling Read From A Master Storyteller
This 2002 novel by Paul Auster is another fantastic tale, part-dream, part-reality, which, like virtually all this author's novels, is a compelling read from the opening sentence. Read more
Published on 20 Sep 2012 by Keith M
1.0 out of 5 stars Blue Spit
At one point in the story we are told about a character who belives he has discovered a blue stone which turns out to actually be the saliva of a passerby disguised by the... Read more
Published on 21 Aug 2012 by Pip3po
5.0 out of 5 stars To read and re-read!
The book of illusions is definitely my favourite Paul Auster novel so far (even though I find them all complete and faultless works of art). Read more
Published on 12 Dec 2011 by steelo
4.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully simple (but complex) story
This is my second Auster book (after the NY trilogy) and I really enjoyed the simplicity and sharpness of the realities and illusions that he has crafted in the beautiful and... Read more
Published on 15 Oct 2011 by aus_books
5.0 out of 5 stars Book of Illusions
I was highly recommended this book and, as always, looked it up on
Amazon. It arrived quickly and in good condition.
Published on 30 Sep 2011 by Judy Mendel
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