Saturday, December 19, 2009

Two books by Paul Auster

Decided to combine two posts I had written previously in an effort to catch up with my reviews before the end of the year:

Post 1: The Book of Illusions

My mind is clearing up. Semester is just about over (and will be long over by the time I post this), I've working out again, feel like I'm on an upswing and my focus is better enabling me to sit down and enjoy reading again.

My library got Paul Auster's new book in which reminded me that I always wanted to read him. His new book didn't grab me but I grabbed The Book of Illusions and it looked good.

It was.

The narrator, David Zimmer, is a college professor. His wife and sons die in an airplane crash which leaves him depressed and despondent. One night, while lying around in a drunken stupor watching television, he comes across a clip of an old silent movie by Hector Mann. It makes him laugh, something he hasn't done in ages, and he is inspired to find out more about Mann.

Zimmer delves into Mann's twelve movies and his life and discovers that Mann just vanished from the face of the earth in 1929. Zimmer writes a book analyzing the movies and has it published.

He then receives a letter from someone claiming to be Mann's wife inviting him to New Mexico to visit Mann. Zimmer exchanges a couple of letters with the woman but is dubious. Then one winter night a woman shows up at Zimmer's house with a gun, forcing him to accompany her to New Mexico.

Finding something obscure and wanting to write about it as a means of overcoming depression? Boy, I can't associate with that. No way (sarcastic voice). Beyond that, though, there are so many stories and complexities involved which made me like it. A central premise of the story is the question over what is real and not. If something exists, especially for a brief time, and then it is removed from existence and no one knew about it, was it real or illusion?

I thought the ending was really sad which is why I'm not rating it two stars. Not Alison McGhee sad, but far from a happy ending. Zimmer claims his life was good but also that the book in my hands would be published only after his death and the amount of time passing between the story told in the book and publication of said book is somewhat uncertain. Did his life really turn out OK? For how long?

I enjoyed Auster's writing immensely. Crisp, concise. Story moved along constantly. Terrific book and I will be reading more by him in the future.

Post 2: Travels in the Scriptorium

Was visiting a neighboring library and decided to see what they had by Paul Auster since I enjoyed The Book of Illusions. They had a slim tome entitled Travels in the Scriptorium. The dustjacket is very odd, with a white horse in what looks to be a room of an institution of some sort, a nightstand, a bed, and a desk.

The book begins with an old man in a room almost identical to the one depicted on the dustjacket. He is confused and cannot remember much. There are a bunch of photographs and a manuscript on the desk in his room. Through a parade of visitors, we find that the old man apparently headed some sort of covert organization that resulted in many tragedies to his operatives. Despite that, his operatives are loyal to him and are the ones that come to care for him.

The manuscript is a fragment of a tale of governmental deceit and at the end of the novel the old man discovers another text on his desk by the same person which is more disturbing.

Both books I've read by Auster are sort of "meta" fiction, stories (or movies in the case of Book of Illusions) within stories within stories. They also seem to be about the process and reasons for creating art.

This book, which is very thin and a quick read, to me reads as a rumination on how "alive" characters are to an author. There's really no plot. In that regard, I didn't care for it. I also didn't care for Auster's going into detail on bodily functions. Perhaps it was designed to make the old man seem more flawed and human. I don't know. I continue to like Auster's writing style, though, and his books are definitely different. Thus, another one star rating.

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