Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Confabulist by Stephen Galloway

The Confabulist TThe Confabulist weaves together the life, loves and murder of the world's greatest magician, Harry Houdini, with the story of the man who killed him (twice): Martin Strauss, an everyday man whose fate was tied to the magician's in unforeseen ways. A cast of memorable characters spins around Houdini's celebrity-driven life, as they did in his time: from the Romanov family soon to be assassinated, to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the powerful heads of Scotland Yard, and the Spiritualists who would use whoever they could to establish their religion. A brilliant novel about fame and ambition, reality and illusion, and the ways that love, grief and imagination can alter what we perceive and believe.

Although I enjoyed parts of this, I was left a bit disappointed. It seemed to skim over some topics and narrative ideas without really delving into them. This left me with a kind of hollow sensation, which in turn, places this book firmly into the “meh” category. 

There is obviously a great deal of research that went into this novel. We get lots of insider knowledge about magic tricks and about some parts of Harry Houdini’s life, but the author also glosses over some pretty crucial events. He tries to connect the life of Martin Strauss with Houdini and it just doesn’t quite work. The last quarter of the novel, in particular, makes little narrative sense. 

I didn’t hate the novel and I didn’t love it, either. The writing is lovely, but the plot is too thin and strung out to be effective. The short scenes and jumping from time period to time period does not help, either. Although I really wanted to be able to recommend this one, there are better novels out there.

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