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The Barnum Museum

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  691 Ratings  ·  83 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
Paperback, 240 pages
Published April 5th 2014 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published 1990)
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Dec 05, 2016 Pantelis rated it it was amazing
Kafka at the mall, Hoffmann in suburbia. A good story is a wonder, it makes you wonder what makes a good story... A good story is more than an illusion. A good story is real magic. Millhauser is the real Eisenheim ...
Krok Zero
Jan 22, 2011 Krok Zero rated it liked it
Shelves: winter-10-to-11
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
Rick Davis
Jan 22, 2017 Rick Davis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this collection of stories by Steven Millhauser for two reasons. First, I read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern last year, and I've seen several people comparing that book to The Barnum Museum and Millhauser in general. Second, I really enjoyed the movie The Illusionist, and this collection contains the short story that inspired the film.

So how did it turn out? Overall, it was good. Millhauser writes like a slightly more surrealist Borges with a dash of Eco thrown in. Some of the stor
Nov 28, 2007 Daniel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-fiction
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
Neale Osborne
Jun 05, 2016 Neale Osborne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While doing a little research on ‘The Arabian Nights’ (for a novel of my own) I read, on Wikipedia, that this collection boasted an ‘Eighth Voyage of Sinbad’. Intrigued, I bought a copy and found a fascinating variety of stories (ten in all).
The shortest of these fictional vignettes were the least successful for me (‘Beyond the Blue Curtain’ and ‘Rain’; also ‘The Sepia Postcard’ which was whimsically promising - the postcard of the title reminding me of Montague James' ghost story 'The Mezzotint
Tom Nash
Feb 16, 2017 Tom Nash rated it it was ok
This book is going to be all about personal preference. This is a great example of the literary short story that places detail over plot. His writing is very accomplished, and he uses detail to a level that makes everything he describes perfectly real in your mind.

But for me, holy smoking Mary, I was bored.

Personal story highlights within this collection: The Barnum Museum, Eisenheim The Illusionist.

The rest all have merits, but if you're looking for stories with a beginning, middle and end, yo
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
Jul 16, 2014 Brian rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
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.
Jan 18, 2012 Rachel rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
I only read the short story of Eisenheim The Illusionist in this book.
Nov 20, 2007 Alexandra marked it as to-read-dont-own
Shelves: avail-on-kindle
Contains the story "Eisenheim the Illusionist" on which the move "The Illusionist" was based.
The Barnum Museum is hailed on the back cover as "Ingeniously written and orchestrated," with "each story becoming a lure to the next." Unfortunately my experience with it was more often the opposite. At its best, it reminds me of Borges, Bradbury, and Wolfe. At its worst, it reminds me of failed imitations of those masters. I'll give my thoughts on each story in brief.

"A Game of Clue" is like several stories mashed together with little purpose. There is the (hi)story of the board game, the stor
Feb 23, 2013 Craig rated it really liked it
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
Aug 16, 2015 Usuyitik rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dünya_öykü

Edward Norton’lu İllüzyonist’i bilirsiniz. Filmin hikayesinin uyarlandığı
“Sihirbaz Eisenheim” ise, Steven Millhauser’ın Barnum Müzesi’ndeki öykülerinden biri. İsterseniz önce “Yeni Başlayanlar İçin Steven Millhauser” turuna çıkalım, ardından da “Barnum Müzesi”ni gezeriz! Millhauser 1943 doğumlu ABD’li meşhur bir öykücü ve romancı. Akademiyi terk edip dört elle yazmaya sarılanlardan. Uluslararası tanınırlığını İllüzyonist filmine borçlu olduğunu söyleyebil
Mar 04, 2011 Mike rated it really liked it
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,
Todd Stockslager
Jun 08, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Very well-written almost-classic short stories defy classification. Millhauser writes descriptively but sparingly, a seemingly contradictory characterization that makes his bare-bones stories deeper and more complex than their length would otherwise allow.

Interestingly, the story that spurred me to read this collection, :Eisenheim the Illusionist" that was the basis for the recent movie The Illusionist, wasn't the best story of the lot. While the movie did a good job of capturing the aura of mat
Feb 04, 2015 Godlarvae rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
As I had viewed Edward Norton's "The Impressionist", I sought out the short story from which the movie was adapted. I was amazed. I couldn't decide what the author's intent is. He obviously is a master wordsmith, an excellent writer of descriptive prose, one whose imagination would find few equals, but, I didn't get him. It wasn't until I was beginning his last short story that it became clear to me as I'd had similar experience while dreaming! We may all have dreams that seem eminently logical ...more
Dec 21, 2015 Dan rated it it was ok
Shelves: modern-fiction
I would like to only write a review for the last short story (Eisenheim, the Illusionist) within this book, but i can't. The 10 short stories in this book are very descriptive, are word heavy, and with little to no dialogue. This combined to make for a dreary read. I found most of the short stories to be lacking in finish - they merely started then finished with no point (or one that I failed to discover). But I kept reading anxious to get to the Illusionist mainly because I really enjoyed the m ...more
Apr 06, 2014 Tara rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
John Porter
Apr 07, 2008 John Porter rated it liked it
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
Dec 04, 2009 Sam rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, shorts, mystery
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
Jan 23, 2013 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Leah Lucci
Dec 22, 2011 Leah Lucci rated it liked it
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
Emily Brown
Mar 31, 2014 Emily Brown rated it did not like it
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
Jul 11, 2013 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: leftovers
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
Aug 07, 2011 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 19, 2012 martha added it
Shelves: 2004
[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...
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.
Jul 01, 2011 Jeffrey rated it it was ok
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.
May 06, 2010 Janet rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
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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Madison Mega-Mara...: #137 The Barnum Museum by Stephen Millhauser 1 1 Dec 02, 2014 10:43PM  
  • Stained Glass Elegies
  • Maybe This Time
  • A Night at the Movies, Or, You Must Remember This: Fictions
  • The Word "Desire"
  • Tail of the Blue Bird
  • Magic: 1400s–1950s
  • The Age of Wire and String
  • Love in a Dead Language
  • Otogizōshi: The Fairy Tale Book of Dazai Osamu
  • You have never been here: New and Selected Stories
  • Boswell: A Modern Comedy
  • Gryphon: New and Selected Stories
  • Thirst
  • Overnight to Many Distant Cities
  • Where You'll Find Me and Other Stories
  • Tlooth
  • Aberration of Starlight
  • Partial List of People to Bleach

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