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The Illusionist [Paperback]

Jennifer Johnston
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
Price: 6.29 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

8 Mar 2007

When Stella first meets Martyn, he's just a stranger on a train. She knows nothing at all about him. But very quickly she is won over by his charm and breathtaking illusions, and when he asks her to marry him, she agrees.

However, as they begin their life together, Stella starts to feel uneasy. What exactly is the show-stopping illusion he claims to be working on, locked away in that room? Who are those men that visit the house at strange hours? And why are her questions never answered? As Stella realises that she barely knows the man she married, her thoughts turn to escape.

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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: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 52,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


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)

Book Description

'One of our most impressive novelists' Sunday Express

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Illusionist 16 Jan 2004
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Reflective, as always 30 Aug 2009
By Aquinas
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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Smoke and Mirrors 9 Mar 2010
By Annabel Gaskell VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Jennifer Johnston is Dublin-born, and won the Whitbread prize for her novel The Old Jest in 1979, and aged 80 she's still going strong; The Illusionist was published in 1995. It tells the story of Stella and Martyn who meet on a train, fall in love, get married, have a child, fall out of love, then Martyn dies.

The story starts after Martyn's funeral. Robin, their daughter, who had worshipped her father is staying with her mother. She's never forgiven her mother for walking out on them, and Stella wishes she could convince her of why she had to do it.

"I always used to wonder where he came from. Who begat your father."
"Curiosity killed the cat."
"I've often wondered if he told you things that he never told me. Or took you somewhere and said ... I used to play in this street ... I used to walk on this stony beach. Did he ever speak his geography to you? Or his history? Who slapped him when he was a child? Who sang songs to him? What were the songs they sang?"
"It's a bit late to be asking these questions now. Why didn't you ask him when he was alive?"
"I did. Over and over again. He said it didn't matter."

The novel then alternates between the past and present and we hear Stella's story of their relationship; how she was swept off her feet by Martyn the illusionist, never a simple magician or conjuror. He's a bit secretive - she knows so little about him, but being in love that doesn't matter. However, over the years, she's still no wiser about what he does in his locked room where he and his friends perfect their illusions; she doesn't know what he does at work either, or if he has any family for that matter.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing 7 Jun 2012
I really enjoyed this read, at first I thought that it was going to drag, but I soon found myself immersed in it.

The Illusionist is the perfect title as Martin seems to have created a whole life of illusion. I like the fact that the reader is given snippets along the way, and really has to make up their own mind just what to believe.

An intriguing read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An unsettling illusion 19 May 2012
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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