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The Illusionist Paperback – 8 Mar 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review (8 Mar. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0755334787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0755334780
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 1.8 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 338,988 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description

Review

An immaculate artist: understated, unshowy, a careful and economical craftswoman of language and all the loose, unwieldy stuff of emotion (Scotsman)

Assured, skilful, delicately comic and mutedly sad (The Sunday Times)

An elegant, elegiac exploration of love, loss, memory and longing (Independent on Sunday)

About the Author

Jennifer Johnston is one of the foremost Irish writers of her, or any, generation. She has won the Whitbread Prize (THE OLD JEST), the Evening Standard Best First Novel Award (for THE CAPTAINS AND THE KINGS), the Yorkshire Post Award, Best Book of the Year (twice, for THE CAPTAINS AND THE KINGS and HOW MANY MILES TO BABYLON?). She was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize with SHADOWS ON OUR SKIN.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Mr. G. H. Hitchen on 16 Jan. 2004
Format: Paperback
As with the other books I have read by J Johnston, I could not put this down. It is about Stella who comes from a conventional background, and meets Martyn on a train. Martyn is a magical man - she is infactuated with him, and impressed by his skills as an illusionist. After a whirlwind romance they marry, and it is then that Stella starts to become unsettled by Martyn secret 'other' life as strange men visit their house entering a locked room, where Martyn is devising an extraordinary new trick. Unfortunately this involves birds, and Stella hates birds, and also Martyn's increasingly secretive life and manipulative behaviour. As their child is born and grows up, Stella has to stand by and watch her daughter being drawn in by Martyn's warped view of love and loyality until he does something unforgivable that leads Stella to take drastic action.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Aquinas on 30 Aug. 2009
Format: Paperback
Johnston's books are always very reflective - they have a kind of autunmnal quality about them - a sense of gathering in. This one is essentially about a dysfunctional marriage - a doomed relationship where one party, namely the man, the so called illusionist, sees love in terms of control and power. The woman falls for the charm of the man but does not pay attention to the obvious danger signs of the man's control freakery and not willing to share. This novel could have descended into a kind of thriller but thankfully does not.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Martyn lives a double life: he works as an illusionist, and at home he builds the appearance of domestic bliss. But what is his past? Where does he come from? Where is his family? Where does the money come from to support his life with Star? At first entranced by the enigma of his extravagance and arrogance, eventually Stella realises she is being crushed by his controlling ways and that their life, too, is an illusion. The novel begins with Martyn's shocking death but continues with his wife and daughter struggling to integrate their opposing views of husband and father. There is one last illusion which it seems even Martyn cannot sustain beyond the grave.

Johnston's prose is simple and understated - a necessary device for this chilling short novel in which strained mother-daughter relations mask a growing sense of unease. Daddy's girl Robin has lived her life as besotted with Martyn's illusions as her mother once was and is unable to understand Stella's `coldness' toward him. Robin has little time for the mother who abandoned her for her own selfish reasons. Stella, meanwhile, bites her tongue as her own mother once did, aware that nothing is as clear-cut as it might seem. Although perhaps she wishes she had fought a little harder to keep her daughter.

In this carefully measured story, secrets are embedded within secrets, mysteries are never quite resolved, and a piercing, unsettling portrayal of family life is drawn. I especially appreciate that Martyn's past remains a mystery rather than being revealed to provide excuses (or not) for his behaviour. A quiet, uncomfortable and unexpectedly powerful tale.
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Format: Paperback
'The Illusionist' is an intriguing and unsettling tale of the meeting, marriage and separation of Stella (a publisher) and Martyn (an illusionist - not to be confused with a conjurer) who meet as strangers on a train in the summer of 1961. Initially unimpressed by this random man who wants to befriend her Stella is soon won over by what she believes is love and accepts his swift proposal of marriage, once married though Stella is bound into a world of secrecy, not just of her husbands but also of her own, and an ominous side to her husband begins to show through.

It isn't giving anything away to say that the book is set after Martyn's untimely death (he is blown up along with hundreds of doves from his act in an IRA bombing) and funeral as Stella's estranged daughter Robin comes to visit her when the book opens. As the two women discuss Martyn, Stella is reminded of the past and we switch between the present and the past and discover how the couple's relationship developed and changes over time. The attractive mystery that draws Stella to Martyn soon fades as mystery becomes secrecy and the controlling and bullying behaviour of Martyn's true character starts to submerge Stella and her dreams.

It's hard to say anymore without ruining the book because it's a book that slowly but surely hooks you in and leaves you wanting more even once the final page is turned. It is certainly a book that will stay with me for quite sometime. I will fully admit I had some slight trepidation with the book initially as Johnston alternates between time periods so suddenly and often with the same narrative. However before I knew it I was engrossed in the novel and had finished the book in a sitting or two and I can't imagine there are many people that couldn't be spell bound (pun intended) by this novel.
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By Wynne Kelly TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 17 May 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read some interesting reviews of Jennifer Johnston's books and thought I would give her a try. She really is very good! The Illusionist is the tale of the relationship between Stella and Martyn. Even though she knows so little about him, she quickly falls in love with him and agrees to marry him. But as time goes on he reveals no more about himself.

But as the story of the marriage unfolds the book takes an unexpected turn. What it reveals is a bullying and abusive relationship - one in which Martyn's powerful personality seems to overwhelm Stella. Their daughter Robin is included in the psychological drama - she is very much her father's daughter and Martyn ensures that he has first place in their child's affection. The subsequent betrayal of Stella by Robin is very disturbing.

We know that Stella escapes as the book begins with her living alone and looking back on her life. Alternate chapters are in the present and the past - a device that works well. A very touching story written without a surplus word. And it even has a satisfying ending!
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