I've just finished reading this beautiful, sorrowful book, for the second time.
The Book of Illusions is the story of academic David Zimmer and his desperate interest in the work of Hugo Mann, an obscure silent movie actor. Zimmer's interest is desperate because researching and writing a book about Mann is a distraction from the tragedy which has overtaken his own life.
The story of Hector Mann, his last iconic movies and his mysterious disappearance is told with a wonderfully engaging attention to detail and feels for much of the 321 pages to be the main thrust of the book, with David Zimmer's own story relegated to a thin thread. This is delicately done and must be deliberate, from a writer of Auster's ability. It works beautifully, depicting Zimmer's need to escape from his depression into the mystery of another.
Although the book ends with more tragedy, we are left with the feeling that Zimmer has gained a little hope, which will enable him to go on.
I won't go into more detail, I wouldn't do the book justice. I'll just say it's not heavy going either despite the plunge into fictional research. Although the story is sorrowful it has also given me hope, because I can see that my creativity works in something of the same way as Auster's.
I too use this technique, as described by one of my tutors at the University of Leeds. To create drama and empathy in your writing, take your main character and chase them up a proverbial tree, then throw stones at them. I then go one step further and chop the tree down.
It certainly works for Paul Auster in The Book of Illusions. I just urge people to read this compulsive book.