Five words from the blurb: grief, silent, comedian, mystery, journey
I’ve owned a copy of this book for a while, but avoided reading it because of the plane crash mentioned in the blurb. I decided to pick it up straight after my holiday as this gave the greatest length of time to remove potentially disturbing images from my head before having to fly again! I’m pleased I made this decision as there were some scenes I’m glad I hadn’t read immediately prior to boarding a plane.
The Book of Illusions is a simple story about a professor whose wife and children are killed in a plane crash. Overcome by grief he begins to lose his grip on the world, but everything changes when he sees Hector Mann, a silent comedian, on television. The film is the first thing to make him smile in months and so he begins a quest to watch everything this man has ever produced. This strange obsession leads him to discover that Mann had a mysterious life and no-one knows what happened to him.
This story was strangely compelling. The pace was slow and there were large chunks where little happened, but the writing quality was so good that this didn’t really matter. There were a few unlikely coincidences, but these were necessary to make the story more interesting, so I was willing to forgive them.
The observations on grief were particularly accurate, giving the reader immense sympathy for the professor. My emotional connection to the characters was strong and I was impressed by the complex and flawed nature of them all.
The only real problem with the book was its lack of impact. I finished it about 3 weeks ago, but could remember next-to-nothing about the plot until I jogged my memory by reading some sections again. It was all subtle and clever – which was entertaining at the time, but not compatible with leaving a lasting impression. The plot was strangely reminiscent of the silent comedies described within the book:
Most silent comedies hardly even bothered to tell stories. They were like poems, like the renderings of dreams, like some intricate choreography of the spirit, and because they were dead, they probably spoke more deeply to us now than they had to the audiences of their time. We watched them across a great chasm of forgetfulness…
Overall this was a beautifully written book containing lots of interesting passages. Recommended to those who like slow, thoughtful books.