Customer Review

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Adult fables...but not quite adult enough., February 17, 2007
This review is from: The Book of Illusions: A Novel (Paperback)
I cant account for the huge appeal of Paul Auster except that he's an intelligent writer without being `too' intelligent, that you can read him for entertainment without feeling like a total stooge, like you would, say, reading John Grisham or Dan Brown. Auster's novels are challenging, but they don't challenge much. They are adult fables reinforcing conventional values, viewpoints, and moral stereotypes written with clarity and craft but ultimately driven by TV-drama conflicts and tear-jerking sentimentality. You can be certain that in picking up a Paul Auster novel you'll never stray too far from the middle of the road.

That said, *The Book of Illusions* is familiar territory even so far as Auster goes. A man suffering a major loss questions his identity and the meaning of his life, begins writing a book, and finds himself involved in a mystery that unfolds in a series of stories within stories. This is Paul Auster's tried-and-true novel-writing formula, but after reading a couple of his books, it begins to feel a little stale. The weakness of this narrative device eventually becomes obvious ((and tedious))--large parts of his novels end up being summarized episodes from the past that read more like plot outlines than full-fledged dramatic fiction. In *The Book of Illusions* it is largely the life story of the vanished filmmaker Hector Mann that is told in this manner.

It's as if Auster wrote a lot of background material for characters in a novel and then made that background material part of the actual novel. It also begins to seem increasingly arbitrary what stories get told and who gets to tell them--a character comes onto the scene and then rambles on for seventy-five pages of back story. Meanwhile the main character--the guy who's wife and children were killed in a plane crash, whose been struggling with depression and suicidal drives--is left somewhere back on page thirty-five where he first started listening to all this. A lot of the episodes in these interminable stories don't really go anywhere--or simply amplify a point already sufficiently made. By piling up the coincidences and correlations, parallels between the stories of the various characters, Auster evokes his much-heralded "magic," but like a lot of magic, it ends up being dependent more on a cheap trick once you catch on. You realize that a lot of these `stories within the story' could just as easily have been left out--or, worse, multiplied to infinity. *The Book of Illusions* is, therefore, much longer than it really needed to be, but also much shorter than it theoretically could have been. And the fact that either way it makes no difference to the central plot is a problem.

In the end, *The Book of Illusions* isn't a bad novel; it just isn't a particularly good one. It won't shake up your world, but it won't put you to sleep either. Like all fables, it will pretty much repeat everything you already know, all the comfortable old bromides and moral certitudes that we imbibed as children and need to keep having confirmed to keep believing. Perhaps, its for this very reason more than any other that Auster continues to be so popular. He reconfigures the obvious in new ways. Nothing wrong with that--its one of the better-paying and more appreciated functions of art.
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