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The Barnum Museum

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  570 ratings  ·  69 reviews
The Barnum Museum is a combination waxworks, masked ball, and circus sideshow masquerading as a collection of short stories. Within its pages, note such sights as: a study of the motives and strategies used by the participants in the game of Clue, including the seduction of Miss Scarlet by Colonel Mustard; the Barnum Museum, a fantastic, monstrous landmark so compelling th ...more
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Published September 14th 1997 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published 1990)
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Krok Zero
The driest and most difficult of Millhauser's collections, with only maybe a 50-60% success rate, but more richly varied than the others and full of alluring ideas even in the stories that don't work. It's hard to talk about Millhauser in general terms -- you can say things like, "he's interested in imagination and creation and the mysteries of art and narrative, and the relationship between reality and artifice, and he loves to overload the reader with physical details," and that would be true, ...more
Daniel
Mostly these stories are forgettable and in many cases, a struggle to read and enjoy. In fact, I felt that most of these weren't even stories, but rather, long treatise on subject, or location, or mood.

Only the last story, "Eisenheim the Illusionist" struck any chord in me. It was as if all the other pieces were working up to putting the various elements together and producing "Eisenheim" -- though even the story of "Eisenheim" is not worthy of such a long preamble.

I love the short story as a li
...more
Jim
Steven Millhauser sure has a flair for detail. I don't think I'll ever approach the game of Clue again without imagining the personalities of each of the characters in rich detail.

Also, I really want one of those little pink rubber balls. You know the ones that have the little line of flashing all the way around? About 3 inches in diameter?

But I don't think I would even call these stories. Some are. I don't even know how to characterize the other ones.

The reason I read this was for the story
...more
Tara
Arrrrgh! I really wanted to like this collection of stories. I am late to discovering Millhauser, but he has quickly become one of my favorite contemporary authors. I have really enjoyed his other works, and love getting lost in his quasi-fantasy worlds.

But these stories were such drudgery. Long on description and details of minutia, short on story/narrative, few of the tales in this collection held my attention. Reading them felt more like viewing mystical vignettes through one of Millhauser's
...more
Brian
Very interesting. The "Clue" story was fascinating, and the title story was enthralling. Millhauser creates a great atmosphere with his words, and really puts the reader into the location. However, many of the stories lacked sufficient plot or motivation or resolution to really feel satisfying. Definitely worth a read, though.
Beth Sniffs Books
Millhauser is one of my favorite authors. His stories are incredible, imaginative, fresh, and unique, and his writing style makes me swoon. The Barnum Museum includes the short story that the movie, The Illusionist, was loosely based upon. Millhauser is a literary rock star.
Emily Sours
I could not get into this book at all. The characters were shallow, the writing was dull. I have no idea why he won a Pulitzer prize. To be fair, I didn't actually finish any of the stories, but I did read six pages of Alice, Falling before I got bored. I also tried to read two pages of A Game of Clue, but was put off by the lack of ANYTHING INTERESTING HAPPENING AT ALL. I'd be interested in the description of something as mundane as a Clue board game if it had any life or beauty, but this was l ...more
Auntie J
Nov 20, 2007 Auntie J marked it as to-read-dont-own  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: avail-on-kindle
Contains the story "Eisenheim the Illusionist" on which the move "The Illusionist" was based.
Rachel
I only read the short story of Eisenheim The Illusionist in this book.
Craig
The first short story in this collection, "A Game of Clue," brings the rooms and characters of the popular board game to life. It is a clever tale, but somewhat disappointing. However the next two stories -- "Behind the Blue Curtain" and "The Sepia Postcard" are exceptional. Millhauser's gift is in his descriptions of vivid and magical settings. In "Behind the Blue Curtain," the young narrator discovers endless, ornate rooms, long winding halls, and richly costumed film characters hidden in the ...more
Mike
Mar 18, 2011 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
I don't think I knew anything about the author before grabbing this book off the shelf. I'm very happy that I did and would be willing to rate this collection a "4.5".

While Millhauser writes in great, perhaps excruciating, detail his themes like those of Shakespeare are universal. Since I have not read anything else that he has written, I can only guess that most of his work shares the deep point-of-view and motivational aspects of these stories. Several of the tales strongly resonated with me,
...more
Sam
This is a strange collection of tales some of which I enjoyed, some of which I didn't. I loved The Sepia Postcard and Eisenheim the Illusionist, both of which I found very well written and inventive with just enough hints at reality to suck the reader in and keep you thoroughly engrossed from start to finish. The remaining tales were a little odd and I found I just couldn't get into them that much, particularly the first story, A Game of Clue, I just didn't see the purpose of that at all. Rain I ...more
John Porter
A three and half star book. Just reread it and was surprised (and a little pleased) to find I felt the same way about it as when I originally read it. I'm a fan of Millhauser and I enjoyed both the story and movie of "Eisenheim." That being said, I think this collection trips over its format. Without a unifying theme (or, perhaps, with a more subtly used one), I think Millhauser's writing and maybe even story choices would have been freer. This is quite good--he's a terrific writer--but you can ...more
Alison Smith
I can quite see why he won the Pulitzer Prize (for a novel). This collection of short stories in the Magical Realism genre is rich, rare and marvelous. Not to be missed.
Mark
Jan 23, 2013 Mark rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
I struggled with whether to give this book three or four stars. If you're a creative writer, then I would give this book 4 stars because there is much to learn from Millhauser's technique. If you're looking for something strictly for pleasure I'd give this a 3. Pleasure readers will likely skip over a few of the stories, but the ones you don't want to miss are "Eisenheim the Illusionist" (which the movie The Illusionist is based on), "The Invention of Robert Herendeen," "Rain," and "The Sepia Po ...more
Leah Lucci
The fantasy stories in here, most notably the title story and the final story about the magician, are astoundingly good. Wow. There are also a few others in here that are nice, which also have fantasy/magical realism elements. But there are quite a few that feel like filler. He has this old-fashioned style of writing that goes really well with fantasy, but when applied to more realistic fare, becomes tedious. Overall, though, if you can, say, check it out of the library, it's worth it, just to r ...more
Chronographia
For best effect, proceed directly to the eponymous short story, then to Eisenheim the Illusionist, and round things out with The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad. (The first shares a kinship with Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus; the second with Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus, and the third has nothing to do with circuses although its attachment to A Thousand and One Arabian Nights fulfills the nocturnal requirement.)

The rest of the short stories may be read if you are perhaps waiting in a docto
...more
Ann
Weird.
Actually I liked the first and the last story. The rest was a bit tiresome.
Andrew Perron
These stories are less narratives and more tone poems, weaving words to evoke an emotional response. Unfortunately, for me, most of the tones involved aren't especially enjoyable or interesting (though there were one or two that I really enjoyed). This is a book where reactions will be idiosyncratic and subjective.
Jennifer
I can't review the entire book as I only read Eisenheim the Illusionist, the last short story in this collection. The Illusionist is one of my favourite films and I wnated to read the short story that inspired it. I really liked the story, even though it lacked the romance seen in the film. I loved the way Millhauser described the magic tricks and how they all worked, and how all the magicians couldn't figure out how Eisenheim's tricks worked. Might end up reading the entire collection after all ...more
David
Of course, I have the idea in my head that I'm "not being clever enough" or "not understanding" what is being told to me through this book. But, ultimately, I read what I read and I found it boring and tedious. Positively, the metaphors and description in this book are good and sometimes lovely, but the narrative is appalling and non-existent in most places. The whole book feels completely pointless, except for "Eisenheim The Illusionist" which is the only worthwhile story in the book and recomm ...more
Gladys
The book overall is a good read, but the short story about which the movie The illusionist is based is outstanding!!!
Amanda
Some stories in this were better than others. The ones I recommend are Alice, Falling, Eisenheim the Illusionist, and Rain.
Parrish Lantern
Although this is a collection of short stories, I feel this is a misnomer, as these tales may appear finite on the page, but escape these limitations through the authors own sleight of hand. Steven Millhauser is the puppet master behind the illusionist, he is the Wizard of Oz, with such a panoply of devices, tricks, magic mirrors and secret panels. A wondrous array of machinery that one mind could possibly conceive.

http://parrishlantern.blogspot.com/20...
martha
[Review from 2004.] My relationship with Steven Millhauser runs wildly hot and cold; I'm constantly switching from thinking he's brilliant to deciding he's a one-trick pony. I loved Martin Dressler, and you get a lot of the same obsession with buildings and lists in this short story collection. Sometimes it verges on the tedious, but he often uses it to good effect, especially in "The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad," which was absolutely superb.

[Another one I can't remember at all...
Cindy
Four stars to "The Blue Curtain", "The Sepia Postcard", and "Eisenheim the Illusionist".
Jeffrey
This is why you shouldn't get a book of short stories just to read one story. I wanted to read Eisenheim the Illusionist because I enjoyed the movie, The Illusionist. The story and the movie had almost nothing in common, and the rest of the collection was so uninspiring that I almost gave up trying to finish the book. The overly detailed stories bogged me down, and I had a difficult time keeping up with the plots.
Brent
Millhauser is his own genre, I am convinced. His prose style is direct and crisp, and his subject matter is eerie and innovative. No one else writes this way about these sorts of things. Some of the stories in this collection didn't grip me, but others like "A Game of Clue," "The Barnum Museum,"Klassik Komix #1," and "Eisenheim the Illusionist" ares ones that I will revisit often.
Sara
Oct 17, 2008 Sara rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
I LOVE Milhauser! READ HIM!! His crazy stories about pushing boundaries and playing games and "Klassic Komix" was GENIUS! Never had I been so grateful that I'd been forced to read poetry in school (specifically "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock," FYI). The Game of Clue and the Sepia Postcard and all the stories are just amazing! He's like my literary Danny Elfman.
Janet
I only read "Eisenheim the Illusionist". After watching the movie The Illusionist, I wanted to know more about this author. I really enjoyed the subtleties of the Shakespearean motifs. However, just finishing the short story was a struggle. It was sluggish and horribly dense. This is one of the few times where the movie is so much better than the story it was based on.
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