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The Confabulist

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  • Posted May 28, 2014

    The Confabulist is the fourth novel by Canadian author, Steven G

    The Confabulist is the fourth novel by Canadian author, Steven Galloway. Martin Strauss admits upfront to being an unreliable narrator; after all, his doctor has just told him “Yours is a rare condition 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.” The reader does well to keep this in mind as Martin tells the tale of his encounter, as a young man, with the famous Harry Houdini, an encounter that ends with him causing Houdini’s death. Or does it? Martin tells us “I didn’t just kill Harry Houdini. I killed him twice.” Intriguing, to say the least. Galloway weaves many known facts and real people from Houdini’s life into his novel, bringing to life historical facts and anecdotes whilst constructing his mystery. The narration switches between Martin’s life in the present day, Martin’s life in 1926 and 1927, and details of incidents in Houdini’s life. Just as in any good magic show, the reader is left wondering what, precisely, is fact and what is illusion, no doubt exactly as Galloway intended. As well as enthralling the reader with accounts and explanations of Houdini’s tricks, Martin’s version of Houdini’s life includes the Secret Service, Scotland Yard’s Special Branch, the Russian secret police, Russian nobility, séances and spiritualists, kidnap and coercion, diaries in code, a Congress Judiciary Subcommittee, spies and thieves, murder and a mystery daughter. Martin’s mother offers advice long after she departs this world, providing a source of both wisdom and humour. Galloway explores the nature of truth: “…truth wasn’t easily identifiable. You could spot a lie, but the opposite of a lie wasn’t always the truth”; of parenthood: “Being a parent is a monumental thing. You shape reality for another person. You cannot be an illusion”; and of memory: “A memory isn’t a finished product, it’s a work in progress” and “What is a memory anyway, other than a ghost of something that’s been gone for a long time?”  This novel is imaginative, intriguing and ultimately, very moving. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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