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The Confabulist

3.39  ·  Rating Details ·  1,293 Ratings  ·  262 Reviews
From the beloved, award-winning, bestselling author of The Cellist of Sarajevo, a beautiful, suspense-filled novel that uses the life and sudden death of Harry Houdini to weave a magical tale of intrigue, love and illusion.

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 (t
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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 29th 2014 by Knopf Canada (first published March 6th 2014)
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Ragtime by E.L. DoctorowThe Confabulist by Steven GallowaySherlock Holmes by James LovegroveThe Seance by Iain LawrenceBorn of Illusion by Teri Brown
Houdini in Fiction
2nd out of 34 books — 3 voters
The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternWater for Elephants by Sara GruenSpectaccolo by Christine CatlinGeek Love by Katherine DunnAwake by Melanie Surani
Best Circus, Sideshow and Museum Books
15th out of 27 books — 18 voters


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Community Reviews

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Will Byrnes
Jun 26, 2014 Will Byrnes rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
What no one knows, save for myself and one other person who likely died long ago, is that I didn’t just kill Harry Houdini. I killed him twice.
Stephen Galloway, the award-winning author of The Cellist of Sarajevo, takes on a legendary real-life character and tries to make some magic with his lesser known history.

He tells a tale of Houdini, vaudevillian superstar, greatest magician of his time, escape artist extraordinaire and, maybe, an international spy.

Martin Strauss is none of these thing
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Terry Brooks
Jun 06, 2014 Terry Brooks rated it it was amazing
I’m not sure if I’ve recommended this author before or not, but the book I want to recommend this month is THE CONFABULIST by Steven Galloway. The first of his books I read was ASCENSION, and it had one of the most riveting opening chapters I have ever read. This new book is about the magician Houdini and the man who killed him. It is a twisted puzzler wrapped around the lives of the two man and many others, a love story for each, and the ways in which we view life when we want to remake it. ...more
Krista
May 22, 2014 Krista rated it liked it
Shelves: can-con, 2014
confabulate (kənˈfæbjʊˌleɪt)
vb
1. to talk together; converse; chat.
2. psychiatry to replace the gaps left by a disorder of the memory with imaginary remembered experiences consistently believed to be true.

As The Confabulist opens, the aging Martin Strauss meets with a doctor who explains that Strauss is in the process of losing his mind: while he will continue to perform all of his normal functions, his memories will disappear and be replaced with imaginary ones. This is a doubly interesting
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Christine
Apr 11, 2014 Christine rated it really liked it
* I received this as an ARC in a Goodreads “First Reads” Giveaway *

Martin Strauss suffers from a condition called “tinnitus”. This condition blurs his memory and often it is difficult for him to distinguish real memories from those his mind fabricates. He is often confused, but one thing that is very clear in his mind is that he is the man who killed Harry Houdini – TWICE.

When a young woman named Alice comes into Martin Strauss’ life claiming to be Houdini’s daughter (we learn that Houdini was
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Katie
Apr 01, 2014 Katie rated it it was ok
Shelves: galleys
I received an Advance Reader Copy of this one in exchange for an honest review, so here goes with my honesty...

Harry Houdini led a fascinating life. His career was only part of it. He was a magician's magician, an aviator, and a fierce opponent of the spiritualism movement. Martin Strauss, the supposed 2 time killer of Houdini in The Confabulist, never existed.

I guess I was hoping for a slightly more fleshed out version of the story of the life and (many) death(s) of Harry Houdini, but instead
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Casceil
Jan 06, 2016 Casceil rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A very intriguing book. It tells interwoven stories of two men whose paths scarcely crossed in real life--Houdini, the great magician and escape artist, and a man called Martin Strauss. Strauss was young man, probably in his early twenties, when he first met Houdini in 1926. The book opens in the present day, when a much older Strauss is meeting with a doctor, who is explaining that there is something medically wrong with Strauss. Strauss is gradually losing his memory, and his brain is ...more
MeggieBree
Mar 29, 2014 MeggieBree rated it really liked it
I know that some other reviews have complained about the fact vs. fiction part of this book, but I am choosing to just look at this as a story, as I have no real knowledge about Houdini's life, and after reading The Confabulist it makes me wonder if anybody has the real story on Houdini anyways!

I really enjoyed it, all of the twists and turns that it takes and the idea that not everything is as it seems, that even our own memories have ways of playing tricks on us.

My only complaint is that I di
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Andrea
Well what a fascinating story! If you are interested in Houdini, or magic like I am,you would certainly want to read this book. Galloway is such a diverse novelist and I can't wait to read what he has in store next. The Cellist of Sarajevo was outstanding! The Confabulist is a wondrous and mysterious tale! Fiction is in the hands of a master when you are dealing with those who are craftsmen.
Mihir
Apr 18, 2014 Mihir rated it liked it
I'm very conflicted about this book, on one hand it had a very intriguing plot based on who Harry Houdini was and what all he possibly had done. The book focusses on Harry Houdini and Martin Strauss whose lives intersect with regularity and a tad bit of magical realism. The story structure has several flashbacks and flashforwards (so as to say), this can be quite confusing for any reader to keep track of.

Overall I would say this book is a decent story which doesn't quite match up to the blurb an
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John
Jun 01, 2015 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First of all, a confession: I picked this up recently at Albacon because, at a glance, I thought it had been written by Stephen Gallagher, of whom I'm a fan. The blurb didn't make the book sound like one of Steve's, but it did sound fascinating. Added to which was that, a few months ago, I did a reasonable amount of research on Houdini for the purposes of my forthcoming nonfiction book Spooky Science; I have, as it were, a residual interest in the man. So I took the book despite its being by the ...more
Matt Musselman
Jan 22, 2015 Matt Musselman rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Matt by: Steven Galloway
I began reading this book immediately after an event with the author where he read an excerpt (albeit, probably not the most engaging one, but I suppose he didn't want to spoil anything) and then talked about his research and answered lots of questions about the book and its topics in general. I was already suspecting superficial similarities to The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and when Galloway mentioned that Michael Chabon is amongst the list of authors he respects the most, I figured the ...more
Book Concierge
From the dust jacket History says Harry Houdini died from a ruptured appendix, possibly the result of an ill-timed punch to the abdomen. But is the death of such a magician, one who built his career on illusion and sleight of hand, to be trusted? [Galloway] weaves together the life, loves and death of Houdini with the story of the person who secretly knows he killed him: Martin Strauss, an everyday man whose fate seems forever tied to the magician’s in complex and unforeseen ways. Martin is our ...more
Sandie
In psychology, confabulation is a memory disturbance, in which one produces fabricated, distorted or misinterpreted memories about oneself or the world, without the conscious intention to deceive. Since the person is unaware that the information they are volunteering is false, they are usually confident and convincing in their recollections. In THE CONFABULIST, author Steven Galloway introduces us to Martin Strauss, the confabulist and Erich Weiss aka Harry Houdini, the confounder who achieved ...more
Mary
Mar 31, 2014 Mary rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received The Confabulist from the publisher as a Goodreads giveaway. Given the brief description of the plot I normally would not have expressed interest in reading a story such as this that is outside my current preferred genre. However, I had previously read Galloway's The Cellist of Sarajevo and loved it. So, I was happy when I was selected to preview his latest book.

I was not disappointed! The story flows through distinct chapters involving the famed magician Harry Houdini and the life of
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Cheryl
Apr 19, 2014 Cheryl rated it really liked it
Confabulist is a magical, entertaining, illusion of a read! I dove right into this book. Right away I was memorized by Houdini. In this book I got to become more familiar with the man behind the illuisionist. I don't say magician as Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin said it best when he quoted these words "A magician is an actor playing the role of a magician." I have never really spend much time on the thought of magicians only that I do find them fascinating. However if you think about this quote and ...more
Brenda Ayala
Feb 29, 2016 Brenda Ayala rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
The confabulist follows two different characters, Houdini himself and Strauss--the guy who punched Houdini in the stomach and killed him. Or so we think.

What follows is a fictionalized account of Houdini's life. The problem was this: it read too much like nonfiction, and Strauss' entire portions of the book felt like wasted space to me. I didn't really care about Strauss and his bungled attempt at romance with Clara. Call me a denizen of hell, but I didn't much care about his condition either. I
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Allen Murphey
Mar 06, 2014 Allen Murphey rated it really liked it
An intricate, affecting story that follows the lives of performer extraordinaire Harry Houdini and everyman Martin Strauss. Chronicling the lives and the intersections of the two men for the length of Houdini’s career and beyond, Galloway has woven a tale, richly based on fact, of intrigue, illusion, memory, and questions of reality, told from several very interesting points of view. Looking back, which memories can we know for sure are real?

A very interesting take on the life, performances, and
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Sarah
Sep 17, 2014 Sarah rated it it was ok
Shelves: arc, historical
I was expecting a lot more from this. I snagged an ARC at ALA because I was trying to expand my adult novel reading and I'm a historical fiction fan. I recognized the author's name but had never read anything by him before. Since he's a well-known and respected author, I expected excellent writing and a quality story. I was disappointed. The writing is utilitarian - not terrible, but nothing special either. At times, the telling of the story felt clunky and awkward. I had little to no interest ...more
Ann
Aug 06, 2014 Ann rated it liked it
Houdini's fabulous life is interesting, but I didn't connect with Martin Strauss, the man who killed Houdini twice. I loved the title, and there are many worthwhile moments, but on the whole this one didn't resonate with me anywhere close to the Cellist of Sarajevo. It must be hard to be held to the standard of previous novels, but I was expecting more.
Penny
Oct 11, 2016 Penny rated it it was ok
How disappointing. I loved loved Cellist of Sarejvo but found this disjointed and difficult to read. Particularly a shame as it is my book group choice. Interested in the stuff about Houdini and Conan Doyle. The story however was a muddle. Felt as though author was trying to be deep and philosophical about life,memory,truth etc but he lost me on many occasions! Just did not draw me in as his other books have.
Kyle
Jul 11, 2014 Kyle rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-books
I'm not sure that I can fault this book. In my opinion, if anything was changed in this novel, the whole thing would just fall apart. With this book, Galloway makes an elephant disappear.

This was just good, solid storytelling! The structuring of it was clear and easy to follow and the pace steadily built from a quick start; the characters were fascinating (I mean, if Houdini isn't enough of a character, we have the man who is convinced he killed Houdini, Russian Royalty, American spies, low-life
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Aimee
May 17, 2015 Aimee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
*This review may contain spoilers*

What's it about?

"The Confabulist" is a novel of Harry Houdini - his life, loves and illusions before his sudden, shocking death - as it explores how much of our lives is real and how much is an illusion? As the world's gaze is focused on the feats and daring of magician Harry Houdini, not a soul is aware of the down-and-out Martin Strauss. However Strauss' fate is inextricably linked with the magician's, and as Houdini continues to rise, and Strauss continues
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Michael
Jan 21, 2015 Michael rated it really liked it
confabulate: (psychiatry) to replace the gaps left by a disorder of the memory with imaginary remembered experiences consistently believed to be true.

This is a novel about truth and what it means to different people in different circumstances. Centred around one real and famous character, the illusionist Harry Houdini, we are challenged to trust what is happening, what is said, what we are presented.

Houdini was called a 'magician' but he was always clear on maintaining he was more of a trickster
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Marianne
May 27, 2014 Marianne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Dana
Jun 04, 2014 Dana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The Confabulist" was a unique retelling of the life of famed magician Harry Houdini with a magical twist. Told in part by Harry and in part by the man believed to have killed Harry when he punched him in the stomach and ruptured his appendix, the narration mesmerized me. The author incorporated all of Harry's most famous illusions into the story exceptionally well, and thoseportions of the story were my favorite. The rich language the author usedbrought every detail to life.

For a historical fic
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Toni Osborne
Apr 19, 2014 Toni Osborne rated it it was amazing
“The Confabulist” is a historically rich and ingeniously told story about illusion and the ways tricks of magic can for better or worst alter what we perceive and give credence to. The clever and entertaining narrative portrays the vivid alluring world of a first class magic show and weaves together the life, loves and the sudden death of one of the world’s greatest magician, Harry Houdini, with the story of Martin Strauss, an ordinary man, as his life turns upside down after accidentally ...more
Jenny Kim
Jul 24, 2016 Jenny Kim rated it really liked it
Intrigued, engrossed and engaged throughout the book. It has actions, thrills and corruptions that make for a fun read that I couldn’t put down. There is also a surprise ending which made me dissect what I’ve read to figure out what are true and what are made up. Secrets behind the magic tricks that made Houdini so popular in his days are revealed so for those who like to be kept in the dark should avoid this book.

This book is about Houdini, the most famous magician/ escape artist of 20th centur
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Victoria
Jun 16, 2014 Victoria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel immediately captures attention with its subject matter - and all the more so with a factual phrase that comes frequently in the book - Harry Houdini, the most famous man in the world. For a time, the magician was known to everyone - and even today, his fame is still known. This novelization of Houdini’s life is told alongside historical and modern chapters in the life of Martin Strauss - the man who may have been responsible for Houdini’s death. This combination makes for a highly ...more
Corinne Wilson
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Theresa Duncan
Sep 05, 2014 Theresa Duncan rated it really liked it
Typically I HATE when authors jump around in time. I find it jarring and lazy, quite frankly. However, as frustrating as it was during this book, I think I understand that the author was trying to simulate dementia, purposely leaving the reader wondering what memories were true or fabricated. And did things really happen as the appear?

I found the story of the time of Houdini quite interesting, as I do with all historical novels.. different time and space and perspectives. Learning about his tric
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Galloway was born in Vancouver, and raised in Kamloops, British Columbia. He attended the University College of the Cariboo and the University of British Columbia. His debut novel, Finnie Walsh, was nominated for the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award. His second novel, Ascension, was nominated for the BC Book Prizes' Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and has been translated into numerous langu ...more
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“Most argument, and in fact most conflict, has nothing to do with the present. It's always about the past or the future. People can't agree on the details of what has happened or is going to happen. But we rarely know what has happened, and we never know what is going to happen. What is really at dispute is how we will deal with not knowing.” 2 likes
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