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The Magician's Assistant

3.63  ·  Rating Details ·  23,302 Ratings  ·  2,465 Reviews
Sabine-- twenty years a magician's assistant to her handsome, charming husband-- is suddenly a widow. In the wake of his death, she finds he has left a final trick; a false identity and a family allegedly lost in a tragic accident but now revealed as very much alive and well. Named as heirs in his will, they enter Sabine's life and set her on an adventure of unraveling his ...more
Paperback, 357 pages
Published 1998 by Fourth Estate (first published January 1st 1997)
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Howard Sabine falls for Guy's/Parsifal's sister Kitty, partially because she looks like Parsifal. Kitty falls for Sabine because she represents Guy: the…moreSabine falls for Guy's/Parsifal's sister Kitty, partially because she looks like Parsifal. Kitty falls for Sabine because she represents Guy: the smart, handsome, talented brother who got away. In this way, Sabine also seems "less than the reason" here, not being loved for who she is but for who she married. I don't think we decided whether or not Sabine is a lesbian or bi-sexual. I think the ambiguity of the relationship is part of the story. I think the sexless aspect of both relationships is suspect.(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Aug 05, 2008 Laura rated it really liked it
I know you are thinking, is there a book you don't like, Laura? Here's the deal. If I don't like a book I can barely read it, much less finish it. So if I do read it-I like it, in varying degrees, but I like it. So tonight I read the Magician's Assistant, by Ann Patchett. If you have read Bel Canto, (and you should have, though I'm not sure I'm spelling it right at the moment.)then you know her style. You get hypnotised by the story, by the language, you get into this rhythm that you can't break ...more
Apr 04, 2011 Dawn rated it did not like it
Shelves: book-club, kindling
Is this really Ann Patchett? While the story was mildly intriguing, I couldn't really like the main character. Sabine seemed too satisfied with living a half-life (in love with a gay man, an assistant instead of a magician, a maker of architectural models rather than an architect, etc.). The literary symbolism also seemed clumsy and obvious (last name Fetters, for example). Finally, and most annoying to me as I live here, the ridiculous caricature of Midwesterners made me want to scream. COME ON ...more
Apr 16, 2011 Kara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This book surprised me. Throughout the whole thing, I was never exactly sure how much I was enjoying it, and yet I couldn't wait to pick the book back up and continue reading. By time the book was done, I wanted to read more, and wanted the story to continue.

The story itself is strange, very strange, but it draws you in immediately. It's the story of a woman named Sabine who is coming to terms with exploring the hidden past of her husband, a famous gay magician after his death. You wonder how th
Jun 02, 2008 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed reading the book, but after reading it I couldn't say that I loved it (hence, three stars).

Sabine, the main character, spends time with her dead husband's family, none of whom she knew existed. The reader is supposed to come along on the journey with her to discover the missing parts of her longtime friend/spouse, but I didn't gain any new insights to him from her visit back to his roots. The West Coast magician reinvented himself too well to have any connection to the Midwestern teen
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
This is my second Patchett novel, and I liked it even less than the previous one I read ( State of Wonder ).

First, I totally misunderstood the premise of this novel. I thought our heroine Sabine's lovely hottie magician husband dies, and then she discovers he was secretly gay, and then discovers he lied about his family being dead and seeks them out blah blah. Instead, the story is that Sabine's lovely hottie magician husband is openly gay and only marries her in the last year so she may inherit
May 24, 2010 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, fiction
I have really become an admirer of Patchett’s writing, and this book was a close second to Bel Canto, which I adored. The Magician’s Assistant is Sabine, and she is mourning the sudden loss of her husband, Parsifal. But the story goes deeper than that. Parsifal is gay, and shortly after the death of his lover, Phan, he marries Sabine to ensure her security in the event of his death. Sabine had been Parsifal’s long-time assistant in his magic act, but more importantly, they shared a bond of frien ...more
Carol Moore
Nov 03, 2012 Carol Moore rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 27, 2009 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer, united-states
I picked this book up a few times and lost interest before finishing the first page. But when I finally got past the first three or four pages, I was really hooked. This characters are just so, so compelling. They're actually so compelling that when I was partway through the book I almost lit a candle at church for two of the characters in it, temporarily confusing them with real people. Which I _think_ is more a testament to how well-written and absorbing the book is than to how socially maladj ...more
Jun 23, 2011 Barbara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Susan, Maria
In my analysis of this book, I have to remind myself that Patchett had written it prior to her amazing, "Bel Canto" and her most recent, "Run". The latter included flat characterizations,and was filled with implausible coincidences and did not meet my expectations for "suspense", as was publicized. In this novel, Patchett had already demonstrated her talent for fashioning her language to convey the complexities of her characters' emotions and actions. She was so adept at this in "Bel Canto", one ...more
Una Tiers
Jul 19, 2015 Una Tiers rated it it was amazing
Five stars with reluctance since I couldn't describe what the attraction this book had for me. Whether it was the grass is greener concept or we're all the same, or the draw of magic. The sad life of Sabine moved to a new chapter although she will likely continue to live propelled with other people's direction.
I absolutely loved the character of the rabbit who seemed a cross between a cat and dog.
Oct 22, 2008 Dayna rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.

“If you truly love Los Angeles, you want to be buried in Forest Lawn.” (p. 48)

Ann Patchett’s, The Magician’s Assitant is a pleasant enough read about a couple of rather likable dead guys, a bereaved and confused magician’s assistant, and one dead scumbag and his wierd and ditzy, family—with way too many dream sequences. All rather pointless.

Bel Canto, my very favorite Patchett novel, it is not.

Recommendation: Not very highly or strongly. Only if you’ve nothing else on your plat
Karolyn Sherwood
It is rare to find a literary page-turner, but Ann Patchett never fails to give us exactly that. Her writing is elegant, sophisticated and quiet; it never gets in the way of the story. The closer I got to the end of this book, the more obsessed I became with it, wanting to make sure that everyone was going to be okay, at least in some sense of the word.

The Magician's Assistant follows the same pattern of Patchett's other novels: An unsuspecting character is thrust into a world full of people he
Jun 23, 2009 Sandie rated it it was ok
Shelves: contemporary-lit
With The Magicians Assistant, Ann Patchett has performed the proverbial "Hat Trick" with a tale that is filled with beautiful writing but contains nothing new in the way of plot.

By diverting our attention with conversations with the dead, flashbacks, dreams and vicarious travel being experienced by Sabine, the title character of this piece and widow of Parsifal the Magician, she manages to make us think we are experiencing a tale of substance when, in fact, it is really all just smoke and mirro
nomadreader (Carrie D-L)
(review originally posted at

The basics: At the beginning of the novel, Parcifal, the magician of the novel's title, dies suddenly. Sabine, the assistant of the title, is left to grieve.

My thoughts: After having loved State of Wonder, Bel Canto, and Run, I was convinced Ann Patchett was one of my literary soul sisters who could do no wrong. Sadly, I didn't connect with The Magician's Assistant at all, and I struggled to even finish the novel. My problems with this
1/2/14: Rereading an old favorite is interesting. I still love this book, still love the glittering magic of LA and the gritty, land-bound Nebraska setting. What surprised me was how my perception changed. I loved this book at 19, then at 22, then at 24. Everyone felt so much older then; reading it now, I'm older than the youngest main character in the story, Bertie, and what hit hardest was how this was a story of grown ups not knowing what the hell they're doing and making poor decisions.

Mar 30, 2009 peefer rated it it was ok
This morning, my belligerent son used his well-honed fingernails to pierce a hole in my hand, drawing blood. When I felt the pain, I smacked his hand away in self defense. I don't feel like talking to him, or even looking at him, for a week. I think he feels the same. He is six, and he has beautiful eyes.

Of course, were he to be diagnosed with brain cancer, my heart would explode and die, and my will to live would wane faster than you could say intentional overdose. Can a person overdose on Advi
Went down like pablum. Bland, but healthy, just like a Hallmark movie. Everyone is good and wonderful and life affirming except for a couple of domestic abuser men.

Sabine’s magician husband, Parsifal, has just died at the beginning of this story. It soon becomes clear that she has loved him for the 20 years that she has served as his assistant on stage, despite knowing he was gay. She lived with Parsifal and his lover for a long time in LA and only married him recently as his prolonged illness
Sep 17, 2007 Janet rated it really liked it
This is a warm and very human story. I loved getting to know the main character, Sabine, and watching her come to terms with the choices she's made as she struggles to build a new life after losing her magician. All the characters in this story are so multi-dimensional that I found myself simply engaging with them at a human level and losing the critical distance I usually maintain when I read fiction.

My only real complaint with the novel involves the pacing. Some of the narrative changes were
Lois Duncan
Jul 31, 2010 Lois Duncan rated it really liked it
This is the first book by Ann Patchett I've ever read. It won't be my last.

For 20 years Sabine has been the assistant to the brilliant magician, Parsifal, with whom she has also been obsessively in love. But Parsifal is gay, and his lover, Phan, is part of this trio of characters. Unsavory as this may sound, it seems to work well for them.

Then Phan dies -- Parsifal, feeling his own death is nearing -- marries Sabine so that she can inherit his and Phan's estates. But, once she's a widow, the gri
Jun 21, 2016 Beth rated it it was amazing
Maybe I am biased when it comes to Ann Patchett but I just loved loved loved this book. Wonderful story about Sabina who is wife, partner and friend for more than 20 years to Parsifal, a magician. After Parsifal dies Sabine finds out that he has a Mother, two sisters and two nephews living in Nebraska that she never knew anything about. The book is about love and relationships, family, magic, secrets and friendship. So beautifully written, just loved it highly recommend.
Apr 18, 2008 Heather rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club, adult
I found this to be a quick, somewhat compelling read, but it really fell flat for me when there was no good resolution. I expected the ending to be much more significant/meaningful/profound than it was - instead, it felt really empty. I also predicted it about 1/3 of the way through the book, and it played out in a really hollow way, I thought. Probably not worth reading if you haven't already, though it's quick so you could always try it w/out wasting much time.
Sep 01, 2014 Lori rated it it was amazing
I do love Ann Patchett. Her writing has an ethereal, magical quality to it that completely draws the reader in no matter what the story. The Magician's Assistant was the third novel of hers I read and enjoyed it almost as much as Bel Canto, her masterpiece. The protagonist in this story, Sabine, being a magician assistant and somewhat magical herself in her thoughts, dreams and interactions fit so well with Patchett's surreal writing style. Sabine has lost her gay husband and her best friend for ...more
Whew. I've been muddling through 2 and 3 star books for a while; it was quite a relief to find this beautiful specimen. I have State of Wonder on my to read list and was browsing stacks in the library by author and figured I'd pick up something else by Patchett to see what I thought. And I loved it.

This book was very compelling, beautifully written, amazingly perceptive, funny, and wise. The characters were complex, the plot unfolded well, and I really only have one very small criticism.
I thou
Jul 03, 2011 Bettina rated it it was amazing
As the second Ann Patchett book I've read, I was already aware of her melodic language and ability to set a scene so exquisitely and humanize her characters so thoroughly that you truly forget reality. Patchett's use of words is far superior to other contemporary writers. The Magician's Assistant was not exactly what I expected it to be, and I was beyond captivated by it. Sabine, the central character underwent incredible emotional changes from turmoil to peace and everything in between. Patchet ...more
I've had this on the bookshelf for a very long time. All of my friends rave about Patchett's 'Bel Canto', which is also waiting on the shelf. What's kept me from reading them is my experience reading 'Run' by this author. I read it with my book group and just didn't care for it, because of that I'd been putting off reading her books. I'm happy to say this book remedied my aversion to reading Ann Patchett novels.

Sabine is the magician's assistant, her husband, Parsifal, the magician, has just pas
Christine Nolfi
Jan 22, 2016 Christine Nolfi rated it really liked it
I love Patchett's work, but had difficulty feeling engaged with Sabine. I wanted to know more about her outside of her relationship with Parsifal and Phan. The plot was a bit slow in parts.

Still, a lovely tale by a master storyteller. Recommended if you enjoy literary novels.
Jun 20, 2012 Susan rated it liked it
I liked it but didn't love it. The plot seems so, so contrived. Sure, I get it that the main character would be interested in unearthing the mystery of her gay dead husband's past, but her extended post-marriage visit with his family didn't ring true to me. Also, the needs and smothering of her by Persival's family, who hadn't seen him in in person for years, even though they fixated on daily viewings of him on tape, is weird.
Dec 05, 2008 Shoshana rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite book (so far) by Ann Patchett. It has a very sweet story that is told beautifully.
Jul 26, 2009 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Patchett was born in Los Angeles, California. Her mother is the novelist Jeanne Ray.

She moved to Nashville, Tennessee when she was six, where she continues to live. Patchett said she loves her home in Nashville with her doctor husband and dog. If asked if she could go any place, that place would always be home. "Home is ...the stable window that opens out into the imagination."

Patchett attended hi
More about Ann Patchett...

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“If you've had good gin on a hot day in Southern California with the people you love, you forget Nebraska. The two things cannot coexist. The stronger, better of the two wins.” 8 likes
“Nothing comforted Sabine like long division. That was how she had passed time waiting for Phan and then Parsifal to come back from their tests. She figured the square root of the date while other people knit and read. Sabine blamed much of the world's unhappiness on the advent of calculators.” 3 likes
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