I’m not a huge fan of magic shows; and people like David Copperfield and Derren Brown don’t attract more than a passing glance. So it seems a bit odd that I would be reading a novel featuring turn of the century stage magicians, but there you go. It’s even more odd that I’m actually finding it really interesting! I confess immediately that I only bought it because I’ve seen the film, starring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, but apart from the very big spoilers at the end, they are two different entities. I haven’t watched the film recently enough to be able to remember each event as I go through, and I have to say that even though I know what happens at the end, it’s not really interfering with my enjoyment of the book at all.
The major difference between the two is the book begins with a frame story featuring the descendants of the two main characters. The book is written in the style of a biography of Alfred Borden (Christian Bale’s character) so it’s seeing things from the magician’s point of view. And this, I think, is what I find fascinating. There is a large section dealing with the Pact between the magician and the audience – how there are certain conventions which have to be followed and just how much of it is stagecraft. It’s not just smoke and mirrors, obviously, but secrets and deception and, more to the point, just how complicit in the deception the audience is.
A major event in the novel is the feud between the two characters, and this starts when Borden reveals Angier’s role at a séance to be nothing more than a magic act; an elaborate deception to take financial advantage of the recently bereaved (I have quite strong feelings on this subject anyway, but I’ll leave them to one side for now). Afterwards, Borden realises that actually, Angier was providing great comfort to the families of the recently deceased, and apologises, but the apology is not accepted and the feud is begun.
The entire relationship between stagecraft, deception and entertainment is, I think, what is fascinating me. I knew it existed and in not enjoying the acts of stage magicians I suppose indicates that I didn’t buy into the Pact. But to see it analysed quite so thoroughly is intriguing, and is definitely something that is going to keep me reading on.
I still haven’t learned the basic three card trick though. The book isn’t that detailed.