The Confabulist by Steven Galloway
The 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.1
Audiobooks have become a staple during my weekly drive. There are times when I will also forego reading during my lunch in order to continue some of my audiobooks. They also make great and convenient place markers to insert inbetween reads. The Confabulist seemed to boast a touch of magic that I was seeking at the time and jumped in. Like many, I am familiar with the name Harry Houdini, and the general sense of his magical talents but there are many intriguing things about the man and his life that were rather unknown to me.
The novel follows the lives of Houdini (Erik Weisz/Ehrich Weiss/Harry Weiss) and a man named Martin Strauss. Strauss’ character is completely fictional, or possibly based on a real person which the conspiracy theorist in me would like to think. Houdini wants nothing more than to build a life of riches to surround himself, his wife and his mother. Although wanting to do so for his mother and wife, Houdini enjoys the spotlight and the attention that it garners, especially those of the ladies.
Martin Strauss is plagued by his memories, or at least he thinks they are his memories. Martin is told by his doctor that his memories may seem very real to him, but there is a possibility that they are not a memory at all. Martin’s story takes place jumping between present day and his past. The reader is instantly intrigued by the information that Martin is known as the man who killed Harry Houdini, not once, but twice.
Houdini’s story involves magic, politics and the spiritualist movement. Although the events are fictionalized, they are done in a way that seems plausible. That is the intrigue to magic, that there is something more than what we see, hear, touch or know to be true. As mentioned before, the conspiracy theorist in me enjoys stories like these and I fully believe that are is so much that is done beyond the veil of sight that many of us will never know influences us every day. Martin’s life is completely railroaded by the events and plans of others.
The Confabulist brings a touch of magic and mystery to this adventure, but it also brings some harsh reality into the mix. There are many things we see and believe to be true that are not, just as there are things beyond our imagination going on every second of every day. Galloway gives us a fantastical adventure, but makes us question the events in the story for what is “true” and what is really a “memory”.
The magic and the story were intriguing but there were also times when the story lost my interest. Throw in the mix of questioning what is real and what is not and in the end I feel like I have not accomplished anything. This isn’t a book I would rave about or be suggesting for anyone to be reading. It’s good to broaden your reading spectrum, but it is also good to real books you really enjoy and that inspire you, and this is not one of them.
- Book summary courtesy of Penguin Random House book page