The Book of Illusions
If I never saw the moon, than the moon wasn’t there .
My third visit in Mr Auster’s world – prompted by Alin’s review – was maybe not the most satisfying (New York trilogy still remains my personal favorite) but definitely the most involving and thought provoking. In fact, the only reason why it’s not my favorite, is that parts of the story felt too cheesy, too melodramatic for my taste. But more on that later 😉
The story goes something like this: David Zimmer, professor, looses his entire family (wife and two children) in a plane crash and resorts to drink and complete isolation to deal (or rather run away from) his pain – much like the main character in The Glass House. After months of downward spiralling, something completely random pulls him out of his state: while watching a late night documentary on silent films, a short sequence makes him laugh for the first time since the accident. He takes it for a sign, for a connection between him and the man who had made that film – the long forgotten Hector Mann. This is the turning point – his new goal will be to see all of Mann’s 12 preserved films (spread in archives all over the world) and to write a book about them. Mann had disappeared in the late 1920s and, since David’s story takes place in the 80s, he’s long presumed dead. So it comes as a great shock to him to be contacted, after the publication of his novel, by Frieda Spelling (Mann’s wife) and Alma Grund (a close family friend , who is in the process of writing Mann’s biography ) with the news that Hector is very much alive. Alma comes to David’s house in Vermont, they drive to New Mexico, where David will meet, for a few minutes, with the man he had so closely followed the past months.
What I thought to be a bit cheesy are bits of Hector’s life story, especially his reason for disappearing for over 60 years. I was somehow expecting something darker, grander, than a love affair gone sour and a murder in which the extend of his involvement was burying the body. I can see why guilt would have its way with him, but why go from a promising artist to a shipyard worker (or something similar) instead of owning up to your actions? The years spent “on the road”, living in fear, hiding, taking up all sorts menial tasks (in fact, he does everything from managing a store to putting up live porn shows) form a typical “American experience” and end up with him blissfully married. His form of eternal penance for the supporting role in the killing of his ex-lover is to never make movies again; but the death of a son and the insistence of his wife change his mind: he will make movies at their ranch in New Mexico, but, once he is dead, his wife will have 24 hours to burn all trace of their existance – closing a perfect circle. And that’s where prof Zimmer, the first to ever write a a book about Mann, comes in: his interest in Hector’s work will prompt an invitation to see the films before they are destroyed. The very same day Hector dies and things change drastically.
There are parts of the book I absolutely loved: the movies within the story, the immediate reality of Hector’s existence – that made me wonder whether he might in fact be based on a real person (I even googled the name 😀 ). The inner life of Martin Frost, the only post-Hollywood movie David ever gets to see is described in such detail that you really have the visual experience…the same with his depictions of Mann’s early on-screen persona: the tics, the white suit, the moustache. Plus, the book mentioned in The inner life of Martin Frost is in fact a book is, in fact, a book published in 2007 by Mr. Auster (Travels in the Scriptorium)
The quote I put right in the beginning is part of David’s little inner speech on subjectivity; this type of point of view in fact governs the whole novel – while written in a third person, there are always dark corners and blind spots, there are still situations that find you unprepared – and that’s one big hook 😉 I think I’m slowly starting to become a bit of a Auster fan 😀