Thursday, August 27, 2009

Book Review: The Book of Illusions By Paul Auster

The Book of Illusions is without doubt one of the best books I have ever read.

Six months after losing his wife and two young sons in an airplane crash, Vermont professor David Zimmer spends his waking hours mired in a blur of alcoholic grief and self-pity. Then, watching television one night, he stumbles upon a clip from a lost film by silent comedian Hector Mann. Zimmer’s interest is piqued, and he soon finds himself embarking on a journey around the world to research a book on this mysterious figure, who vanished from sight in 1929 and has been presumed dead for sixty years.

When the book is published the following year, a letter turns up in Zimmer’s mailbox bearing a return address from a small town in New Mexico inviting him to meet Hector. Torn between doubt and belief, Zimmer hesitates, until one night a strange woman appears on his doorstep and makes the decision for him, changing his life forever.

The Book of Illusions drew me in from the first sentence and because I couldn't put it down I (sadly) only got to know the characters for a very, very short period of time.

It is a difficult book to describe because the plot was simple, but what made it so hard for me to put down was the eloquent way Auster portrayed his characters, it was powerfully descriptive and so emotionally charged that I found myself chocking back tears several times. They were real, so real it was hard to believe they didn’t really exist, that they didn’t really live these experiences, even if their experiences and circumstances were unbelievable.

The story is told in several narrative layers and as it progresses you begin to see parallels between the lives of David Zimmer and Hector Man; both are broken, both are profoundly sad, both are guilt ridden and both are doing penance from events of random but tragic circumstance.

The Book of Illusions is packed full of symbolism of which I hear Auster is very well known for, but this was the first of his books I read and I intend to familiarise myself with more of his work, so waiting for me on my bookshelf is The New York trilogy :)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Benelux and France in one weekend

So our mini road trip ended up looking more like this.

We didn't really have a plan, all we knew was that Jonas wanted to eat a baguette and some French cheese while wearing a beret. So we would head to Northern France via Luxembourg and return via the Coast. As you can see the coast plan didn't happen and Jonas didn't get to eat cheese on a baguette while wearing a beret either, but we did have a blast!

Benelux and France in one weekend:

Wooshed down to Luxembourg, checked into our hotel and went for a beer.

Impressions of Luxembourg: Very pretty but kind of creepy. Most things were shut by 11pm on Friday evening. One bar we walked by that seemed lively was shut down by police. We ended up having a beer in an empty bar down the road, where the waitresses looked emptily down at the floor. A drunk man walked in complaining that his mother picked up his best friend at the party he was just at, he then picked up a stool and was tackled to the ground and physically thrown out by a bouncer. We headed into the city centre for a beer only to find it was full of drunk kids. Actually, Luxembourg was just like being back in Sydney! Decided to leave really early in the morning.

Hit the highway out of Luxembourg and into France. Leisurely drove through the Northern France countryside.

Stopped for lunch and a stroll in a quaint little French Village.

Jumped onto the highway, drove non stop to Lille and hunted for a hotel.

Impressions of France: GORGEOUS. The countryside was lovely with it's rolling hills, quaint little villages and exceptionally friendly locals. Lille was a fantastic city that kept surprising us because we had no expectations at all. Saw a local do a magic show, tried some fantastic red wine, strolled around for hours and had dinner at 11.30pm (gotta love Southern Europe!). The best thing was most people in this area of France didn't speak English so we had to attempt to communicate in French (which neither of us really knew) and by using our hands, which made for some very funny experiences, god I love traveling!

Checked out some Sunday markets had some crepes and hit the road to Brussels.

Impressions of Belgium: Our 2 hour stop in Brussels was great fun when we weren't stuck in traffic, we didn't feel like we saw enough though, so a Brussels trip is on the itinerary. We had a couple coffee breaks in some small villages in the countryside, which was also lovely. Except for one town we stopped at that wasn't on the map. If it's not on the map then maybe that's a sign you should keep driving :)