Linden's Reviews > The Magician's Elephant

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
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's review
Jan 03, 2010

did not like it
Read in November, 2009 , read count: twice, just to be sure.

** spoiler alert ** I've been a steady fan of DiCamillo's past work but was disappointed with The Magician's Elephant. The story is about a boy, Peter Augustus Duchene, who, on the way to buy fish and bread, spends his guardian's coin on a visit to a fortuneteller. He hears that his sister is not dead as he had believed and that an elephant will help him find her. That evening, at a show in the town opera house, a magician's error causes an elephant to drop from the sky through its roof and inadvertently cripple a woman.

The structure of the story is that of disparate threads that gradually converge and then interweave: the magician, a beggar, a sculptor, the boy, his sister, a nun, and the woman. One of the starred reviews, this from the School Library Journal, for example, declares that "DiCamillo's carefully crafted prose creates an evocative aura of timelessness for a story that is, in fact, timeless." This I've found to be true of her other work, blending elements like a good cook with delicious language and pace.

There were certainly parts I enjoyed in this book. I quite liked DiCamillo's rendering of the society woman who pre-empted ownership of the elephant after its unusual arrival in order to maintain ascendancy in her social circle. She widened the doorway of her house to admit the elephant then allowed people to view it, captive in her house and the viewers in her thrall. This part rang true to me of human nature. However I admit I had been preoccupied all along, fretting about the elephant. Had it been injured in its fall through sky, roof and thence onto the woman who occupied the seat upon which it fell? I envisioned the splintering of beams, broken plaster and worse. Yet no mention of an injury save that of the woman it landed upon. For me, there was something about the lack of information about the elephant except for its terrible unhappiness in the woman's house that made it seem an authorial device, becoming three dimensional only when it served the tale.

In this story, though quite short compared to her other work, I fidgeted (rare for me), trying to urge the story forward. It reminded me of that uncomfortable dream in which a desperate need to run is countered by being able to move with great effort only in slow motion. All in all, it seemed a very thin broth for the number of pages I had to consume.

I look forward to more of her work of the caliber of The Tale of Despereaux and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, both of which rightly earned their places on our library shelf.
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08/03/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Douglas (new)

Douglas Cootey Bravo! Thank you for expressing into words what I've been feeling. For a book about an elephant, I have been surprised about the lack of concrete details about that elephant. It might as well just be a statue. And for all the effort spent on her diverse pantheon of characters, I haven't been compelled to care about any of them.

I'm a third of the way through the book and finding myself desperate for a forward moving plot or a main character that does more than despair. This book seems to please those who want to bask in the glow of the author's presence.

Linden Thanks for the comment. I agree with you; here we readers are, ready to empathize or care, and she seemed to shy away from giving us enough story to do so. I've been wondering in the interim since reading it if the story has some strong personal significance for her because it fails, to my mind, at a reader-oriented more universal appeal. Best wishes to you.

sanny Yes, I've only read Edward Tulane, and was expecting a bit more out of this one. Perhaps I should check out Despereaux next :)

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