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Steven Galloway ë 1 REVIEW

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 assassi. A very intriguing book It tells interwoven stories of two men whose paths scarcely crossed in real life Houdini the great magician and escape artist and a man called Martin Strauss Strauss was young man probably in his early twenties when he first met Houdini in 1926 The book opens in the present day when a much older Strauss is meeting with a doctor who is explaining that there is something medically wrong with Strauss Strauss is gradually losing his memory and his brain is replacing the lost memories with false memories confabulations so that Strauss will over time cease to know which of his memories are real The book alternates between chapters about Houdini going back to 1897 chapters about Strauss as a young man 1926 27 and chapters set in the present day Over the course of the book we learn a lot about magic tricks how they work what elements are essential to make them work and about the workings of the human mind how do know whether what we have seen is true Both men lead very exciting lives and their combined stories make for a very engaging book

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The Confabulist

From the beloved award winning bestselling author of The Cellist of Sarajevo a beautiful suspense filled novel that uses the life and sudden death of Harry Houdini to weave a magical tale of intrigue love and illusion The Confabulist weaves together the life loves and murder of the world's greatest. What no one knows save for myself and one other person who likely died long ago is that I didn t just kill Harry Houdini I killed him twice Stephen Galloway the award winning author of The Cellist of Sarajevo takes on a legendary real life character and tries to make some magic with his lesser known history He tells a tale of Houdini vaudevillian superstar greatest magician of his time escape artist extraordinaire and maybe an international spy Martin Strauss is none of these things When we meet him in the present day of the tale he has learned that he has just gotten some bad news Yours is a rare condition the doctor said seeming almost excited in which the damage that is being done to your brain does not destroy cognitive function but instead affects your brain s ability to store and process memories In response to this your brain will invent new memories So Harry Houdini meets MementoThe authorStrauss a student in Montreal is fascinated with magic although he is not a capable practitioner He is smitten with a young lady who shares his interest and when they have a chance to see the great Harry Houdini perform they avail Strauss is not the most secure beau and when the object of his desire seems interested in the famed escape artist than is comfortable things get heatedOn October 31 1926 the real life Houdini died from a ruptured appendix A few days earlier in Montreal a student named Whitehead was granted permission to punch Houdini in the stomach a test of the performer s claim that it would not hurt him Under normal circumstances it might not have but it turned out that Houdini was compromised with a case of appendicitis He kept traveling and performing but was brought to a hospital in Detroit in severe pain and died there Ascribing his death to the student s blows was really a ploy to get his life insurance to pay double Houdini s death has always really interested me What would it be like to be the guy who punched Harry Houdini in the stomach from the Globe and Mail interview There are alternating tale tellers in The Confabulist Martin Strauss speaks for himself and the Houdini chapters are told by an omniscient narrator The time lines are dual as well present day alternating with a past that advances from 1897 before Houdini had achieved world wide renown to 1927 as Martin recalls and we see for ourselves what transpired We cover some real estate in The Confabulist as well from Canada to New York to sundry locales in EuropeHoudini image from wikimediaWe get to see how the gifted Erik Weisz a Budapest born son of a rabbi became the amazing Houdini professionally and theatrically There are explanations for a few of the stage tricks of the age and that is a particular bit of fun There is some insight into how the entertainment business of the early 20th century was run and a look at the latter day Houdini as an exposer of charlatan psychics and spiritualists When asked how he landed on Houdini for his new novel Galloway says he was fascinated by the showman s iconic status but also by the fact that Houdini himself was a sort of fiction Most magicians are kind of made up characters but him than any He s a Hungarian Jew pretending to be Mr America Most of what he said about himself biographically was a total total lie So I just kind of arrived there and never left from the Globe and Mail interviewStrauss s history is far less interesting but in his musings we get at some of the thematic issues of the novel Some insight into international intelligence goings on of the period is also noteworthy What is real and what an illusion is a consistent theme throughout the tale on stage and off How is it we can be so sure that we ve seen heard and experienced what we think we have In a magic trick the things you don t see or think you see have a culmination because at the end of the trick there s an effect Misdirection tampers with reconstruction But if life works the same way and I believe it does then a percentage of our lives is a fiction There s no way to know whether anything we have seen or experienced is real or imagined or a memory isn t a finished product it s a work in progress So does Galloway succeed in making magic Only somewhat There are two issues I had with the book One is the inherent difficulty of having an unreliable narrator That this is done openly from the opening chapter does not make it any less problematic How are we to know if what Strauss reports is true or imagined And if one cannot know if what he reports is real it makes for difficulty in relating to his experience and knowing for ourselves that what we are reading is or is not an accurate rendering of events The dimorphism between the wonderful tale of Houdini s and the far less gripping tale of Martin Strauss makes one want to slip the knots of Martin s chapters to make one s way back to the real action And while the story of Houdini does succeed in holding our interest it seemed to me that there remained a distance between reader and character even for Houdini that kept one from the sort of emotional engagement that is needed if we are to feel much for him Martin is an obvious literary device so one does not hope for too much there But one does want to feel of an investment in Houdini than was possible here There are compelling elements at play in The Confabulist The contemplation of reality versus illusion counts as a strength On the other hand the rationale for Strauss s attack on Houdini seemed forced One would expect that there is a marvelous story encased in the available elements Unfortunately the tale is only able to extract a limb or two and remains locked up While there is no obvious tell in the author s literary sleight of hand there is certainly enough going on to sustain a reader s interest this remains an instance when the magic simply does not uite go poofPublication date 5614Posted here 62014This review was originally posted at Fantasy Book Critic on 61614It has also been posted at CootsreviewscomEXTRA STUFFThe condition ascribed to Martin Strauss was discovered by one Sergei Korsakoff a Russian neuropsychiatrist who is represented in The Confabulist by a Russian Dr Korsakoff practicing in the West presumably New York Here is some info on the actual conditionA bit of info on Harry HoudiniInterviews with the author from The Globe and Mail and The National PostHoudini s grave

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Nated 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 believ. I m very conflicted about this book on one hand it had a very intriguing plot based on who Harry Houdini was and what all he possibly had done The book focusses on Harry Houdini and Martin Strauss whose lives intersect with regularity and a tad bit of magical realism The story structure has several flashbacks and flashforwards so as to say this can be uite confusing for any reader to keep track ofOverall I would say this book is a decent story which doesn t uite match up to the blurb and what it tries to aim for Ultimately it s a 3 12 star book


10 thoughts on “The Confabulist

  1. says:

    What no one knows save for myself and one other person who likely died long ago is that I didn’t just kill Harry Houdini I killed him twice Stephen Galloway the award winning author of The Cellist of Sarajevo ta

  2. says:

    I’m not sure if I’ve recommended this author before or not but the book I want to recommend this month is THE CONFABULIST by Steven Galloway The first of his books I read was ASCENSION and it had one of the most riveting opening chapters I have ever read This new book is about the magician Houdini and the man who killed him It is a twisted puzzler wrapped around the lives of the two man and many others a love story for each a

  3. says:

    confabulate kənˈfæbjʊˌleɪt — vb1 to talk together; converse; chat2 psychiatry to replace the gaps left by a disorder of the memory wit

  4. says:

    I received an Advance Reader Copy of this one in exchange for an honest review so here goes with my honestyHarry Houdini led a fascinating life His career was only part of it He was a magician's magician an aviator

  5. says:

    I received this as an ARC in a Goodreads “First Reads” Giveaway Martin Strauss suffers from a condition called “tinnitus” This condition blurs his memory and often it is difficult for him to distinguish real memories from those his mind fabricates He is often confused but one thing that is very clear in his mind is that he is the ma

  6. says:

    A very intriguing book It tells interwoven stories of two men whose paths scarcely crossed in real life Houdini the great magician and escape artist and a man called Martin Strauss Strauss was young man probably in his early twenties when he f

  7. says:

    Well what a fascinating story If you are interested in Houdini or magic like I amyou would certainly want to read this book Galloway is such a diverse novelist and I can't wait to read what he has in store next The Cellist of Sarajevo was outst

  8. says:

    I know that some other reviews have complained about the fact vs fiction part of this book but I am choosing to just look at this as a story as I have no real knowledge about Houdini's life and after reading The Confabulist it makes me wonder if anybody has the real story on Houdini anywaysI really enjoyed it all of the twists and turns that it takes and the idea that not everything is as it seems that even ou

  9. says:

    I'm very conflicted about this book on one hand it had a very intriguing plot based on who Harry Houdini was and what all he possibly had done The book focusses on Harry Houdini and Martin Strauss whose lives intersect with regularity and a tad bit of magical realism The story structure has several flashbacks and flashforwards so as to say this can be uite confusing for any reader to keep track ofOverall I would say thi

  10. says:

    Steven Galloway’s The Confabulist is a much ambitious book than his earlier work The Confabulist like Harry Houdini is elusive deals with misdirection plays with time and attempts to answer many uestions about one’s memory the changing faces of appearance and reality and the nature of human motivations and relationships The bo

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