David Zimmer’s life collapses when his two sons and his wife die in a plane crash. He finds, if not meaning, then at least something to do, by writing a book about the silent films of forgotten star, Hector Mann. Hector Mann disappeared mysteriously in the 1930s, and is presumed long dead, but now in the 1980s Zimmer gets a letter from his wife, saying that Mann is alive but ailing in New Mexico and would like to meet Zimmer before he dies.
I first read this book four years ago, and didn’t enjoy it as much as this time. I thought it was too derivative of his other work then, but now I think it’s brilliant with subtle intertextuality.
David Zimmer was Marco Stanley Fogg’s friend in my favourite Auster book, Moon Palace. I would like more than anything to read the continuing adventures of Fogg. This will have to do for now. One tantalising reference to the events of that book is the fact that Zimmer named one of his sons ‘Marco’. No more is said than this, but it put a smile on my face.
The rest of the intertextuality is only now being revealed. Auster published this novel in 2002, but it contains references to works he has completed since. [Spoiler alert] In New Mexico, Mann has spent years making films no-one else is allowed to see, films which his wife will destroy on his death. One of them has the title Travels in the Scriptorium; another, The Inner Life of Martin Frost. The first, of course, is the title of Auster’s 2007 novel; the second of the film he released this year.
Zimmer gives us a scene by scene breakdown of The Inner Life of Martin Frost, the only secret film of Mann’s he gets to see before they are destroyed. I’ll find it interesting to compare with the ‘real’ film of that name.
The threat of the destruction of these amazing secret films makes the whole novel feels like a tragedy at times. Auster reveals something in me, because I managed to feel like the novel had a happy ending when the films might be saved at the end, even after the sad death of Alma, Freida, Hector and possibly David.