Thinking as a Hobby

Get Email Updates
Email Me

Admin Password

Remember Me

3477037 Curiosities served
Share on Facebook

Book of Illusions
Previous Entry :: Next Entry

Read/Post Comments (3)

I just finished reading Paul Auster's Book of Illusions.

The story concerns a literature professor whose wife and two young boys are killed in a plane accident. In the depths of depression, he sees a silent film documentary, and the work of an obscure comedic film actor named Hector Mann makes him laugh, pulling him back from the brink of depression. The professor wants to learn more about the man and his films, and he does. Hector disappeared decades ago, vanishing without a trace after only making 12 films, one a month for a year. The professor ends up watching all of these films and writing a book about them, and then one day he gets a letter from a woman claiming to be Hector's wife, and also claiming that Hector wants to meet him.

That's really the beginning of the book, which turns out to be a novel-length rumination on the ephemeral nature of art, and life itself. Each character knows tragedy, immense tragedy, throughout their lives. The main character, Zimmer, has been psychologically crippled by the death of his family, but Mann's films, and another woman, eventually pull him back into life.

The characters each, in their own way, all have chance at redemption. So do any of them get it? I won't say any of the specifics of the ending, but I will say that no, none of the characters are redeemed. They are shown a brief glimmer of redemption, and then Auster piles further tragedy on their heads. Thus, the ending was horribly depressing, and not very satisfying.

I don't know exactly where Auster is with his own work, his own writing life, but in this book he seems to be saying: "Don't bother. When you're dead, you and your work will be forgotten, or worse, simply marginalized." And neither of the men in the story is able to have a successful relationship. One pits his art against the women he loves, calculating the it's a zero-sum game: What you give to your art, you take from the one you love. Almost all the women in the book meet a grisly fate, destroyed by their associations with artistic men.

I wanted to scream at Auster to lighten the fuck up. But no, as an author he chose instead to crush all his characters, show them a brief ray of hope, then crush that too. All of them.

I look at this from a writer's perspective. I suppose if you think art is pointless and life is a bleak, depressing enterprise, that's what you're going to communicate (though it seems strange to do so at all). Tragedies, it seems to me, only work if there is some lesson to be learned, or some small sprig of good that pokes through the ashes at the very end. Sure, everybody died at the end of Romeo and Juliet, but we got the sense that the tragedy might finally bring about the end of the senseless, perpetual feud between the two families.

So I don't dislike tragedy. Some of my favorite stories are tragedies. To Build a Fire is, in my mind, a nearly perfect short story. The man dies at the end, but there is an important lesson to learn. Man's hubris should not embolden him to think he is above nature.

But it's difficult to know what to take away from Book of Illusions a thoroughly bleak, virtually suicidal tract on the pointlessness of it all. Would it have killed Auster to let one of his characters recover some small shred of happiness? I mean hell, kill all the rest, but let just one of them realize some tiny bit of hope. That way, life is recognized as the mixed bag that it is, not some fucking 24-hour death march into oblivion.

I've got a lot of words in me, but I hope I never write anything this thoroughly unredemptive.

Read/Post Comments (3)

Previous Entry :: Next Entry

Back to Top

Powered by JournalScape © 2001-2010 All rights reserved.
All content rights reserved by the author.