Book Review: ‘The Confabulist’ by Steven Galloway

It seems I’m attracted to books about memory – or lack of it. I’m currently reading the memoir of the wife of a man who has a seven second memory loop (think about that – dreadful); I saw Michael Corballis talk about memory and his new book The Wandering Mind at the Waiheke Book Festival earlier this month:

And earlier this year I reviewed Su Meck’s biography I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia:

Now I can add Steven Galloway’s The Confabulist to my list.

I enjoyed the concept of this book more than actually reading it. The concept is the entwining of Houdini’s fascinating life with the present day story of the man who supposedly killed him (not once but twice). The key to the story is that the ‘killer’ suffers from severe amnesia – a classic case of unreliable narrator.

'The Confabulist' by Steven Galloway. Riverhead Book, NY, 2014. Image copyright Caroline Barron 2014

‘The Confabulist’ by Steven Galloway. Riverhead Books, NY, 2014. Image copyright Caroline Barron 2014

As a story and a concept it is a good read, but I felt Galloway took the real story and facts of Houdini’s life almost too literally. I know this is the whole point of fiction based on fact, but for some reason this didn’t work as well as, say, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.

The best thing about The Confabulist is the innovative structure, switching back and forwards through time; and the dedication:

“Every man’s memory is his private literature. Aldus Huxley

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