Paul Auster – Part 2

I finished reading Paul Auster’s The Book of Illusions last night. I wanted to walk away from it as I approached the last ten pages because the world Auster created was so believable (though quite fantastic), I didn’t want to see it end. But of course I couldn’t stop reading. Which isn’t a bad description of the novel: readable. Not the Stephen King, pulp novel kind of readable, but compelling and intelligent. The story is so fantastic with so many surreal twists and turns, it’s a credit to Paul Auster that he makes it feel so real. The writing is so subtle and understated, you don’t realize the emotional investment you’ve put into the characters until something happens to them.

And the ending does not disappoint. I thought it might be another novel where a bunch of stuff happens and then it just ends — goodbye and good luck to everybody. But the ending here adds an extra dimension to the whole story that makes you feel, “Alright. Good.” (Along with, “Wow. How’d he do that?”) It’s not easy to write a good ending, but Auster does it. I admire how he tells such a compelling story out of something that would ordinarily seem unremarkable, and leaves you thinking about it long after you’ve closed the book.

I read the novel without reading the damn summary on the back of the book that gives away half the story — and I’m glad that’s how it went down. For the same reason, I haven’t mentioned anything about the storyline. Even if I did summarize it a bit, you wouldn’t think, “Wow, that sounds like a great story.” But, if like me, you just picked it up and began reading it, you wouldn’t need or want to read the back of the book because by the time you got past page 1, you’d be completely immersed in the story. Good reading all around.

I’ll be headed to the used bookstore over the weekend to pick up another Paul Auster book. Any recommendations? I’m even interested in his non-fiction.

Previous post: Paul Auster. Next: Moon Palace.

About Phillip

Phillip Cairns is a beekeeper in St. John's, Newfoundland, who writes about beekeeping at

4 Replies to “Paul Auster – Part 2”

  1. I remember starting to read Jude The Obscure by Hardy decades ago and someone mentioned a movie based on it, asking if I got to the part where a pivotal event with Jude’s son occurred. I didn’t! The bastard.

    That’s it.

  2. You mean the big scene with, how do I put this, the rope tied around the rafters? Lovely scene.

    By the way, I have a new tagline for SWT: “Jody and Phillip talking back and forth to each other about stuff no one else gives a damn about.”

  3. Right, that one. There’s a scene from Of Human Bondage that has stuck in my mind for 20+ years now too: where the protagonists arrives in his tiny Paris apartment and finds all his bookshelves and books littered about and destroyed. I nearly cried. Seriously.

  4. There’s a scene in William Wharton’s BIRDY, which is quite different from the film, where all the canaries Birdy’s been raising in his backyard fly away one day. That got to me. Which seems completely stupid when I say it like that, but that’s another surreal novel that sucked me in good (much more dream-like than The Book of Illusions). I remember reading it over a weekend in an empty house. I was living in 1940s Philadelphia for the whole weekend. One of theose rare times when you don’t just read the book — you experience it. I was 17 years old.

    Too bad I can’t think of a better example.

    J.D. Salinger’s short story, “For Esmè — with Love and Squalor,” is one of the most impactful (if that’s a word) stories I’ve ever read. I’ll read it every couple years, and it still knocks me out. After CATCHER IN THE RYE, Salinger doesn’t get any better than that.

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