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The Magician's Assistant Hardcover – 19 Feb 1998

4.1 out of 5 stars 56 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 19 Feb 1998
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; First Edition edition (19 Feb. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857028139
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857028133
  • Product Dimensions: 22.7 x 3.6 x 14.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,329,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From the Back Cover

In the world of illusion, things are rarely what they seem. But it still comes as a surprise to Sabine after the death of Parsifal, with whom she has worked for twenty years, when the magician's mother and two sisters appear from nowhere to request her help. Accepting their plea, she uproots from her beloved Los Angeles to the frozen wastes of Nebraska. There she learns the truth about Parsifal's family, and also discovers her own unimagined magical powers – powers that may help her find the love she has always been denied.

About the Author

Ann Patchett is originally from Los Angeles and is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College. She is the author of two earlier novels, The Patron Saint of Liars and Taft. She lives in Nashville and is the Tennessee Williams Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of the South


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PARSIFAL IS DEAD. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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By S. Bailey VINE VOICE on 11 Aug. 2007
Format: Paperback
On one level, this is an incredibly simple book. Sabine has been the magician Parsifal's assistant for twenty years. After his death, she discovers a family she never knew he had, and they piece together the truth about the man.

Once we discover what some of that truth is, however, we begin to see a more complex situation. Parsifal was married to Sabine, but the two of them lived with Phan, Parsifal's gay, true lover. Guy, the boy his family knew, was instrumental the death of his father. And so it goes on: Sabine, Dot Fetters the mother and Kitty and Bertie the sisters, each adding to the picture and discovering new ways of looking at the man they had loved.

Criticism has been made of this book for its lack of plot, and if big plot is what you are looking for, you had better look elsewhere. This book is about character, about truth and the nature of love; you might think you were looking at an illusion, and then find that you were looking in a mirror instead. As any magician knows, the truth revealed has no impact until the illusion has been well set-up, but the set-up may be a slow and subtle process. That is what this book is about.

I want particularly to mention Patchett's perfect translation to the page of the too-large physicality and grunting non-verbal communication of Kitty's adolescent sons. Witty, literate adolescents are one thing to write, but these rather more realistic ones are a real achievement. Her writing goes beyond words.

Definitely recommended, and responsible, like I needed it, for adding another author to my "get everything she's ever written" list.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
First I want to get something off my chest. When I selected this book the blurb advertising it suggested it was going to be a very diferent read to what it turned out to be. Ultimately I'm glad I got it but the original Amazon write-up made it seem like a fantasy novel. However even that original blurb would be preferable to the current Amazon write-up, which is a bit too spoilery for my tastes.

Sabine's long term showbusiness partner and sometime husband, Parsifal, has died, following almost on the heels of the death of Parsifal's true love, Phan, who happens to be a bloke. Sabine is left feeling empty and desolate in their LA home but is still faced with the task of tidying up Parsifal's financial matters. It's then that she discovers his family, who he claimed were dead, are in fact alive and well, living in Nebraska.

And that's about as much of the plot as I'm giving away because it's a delicate thing which is best left to unfold in its own time, like the blooming of a rare orchid.

All the sleight of hand and illusion allusions have been used up already but they hit the nail on the head. Part of the charm of this book is the way it leads you in one direction, making you think you have the measure of a character, then bam! you realise you were wrong all along. It's not overdone and there's more to it than just that. There's some very clever subtle writing throughout that left me thinking about certain passages long after I'd finished them. I actually had to leave it several days before writing this review because I was still getting scenes straight in my head.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this to people who enjoy character driven fiction, though the focus here is primarily on Sabine herself with only a few of the other characters being fleshed out. I was left feeling that a couple of the people who're central to the story don't become fully rounded but that's such a little thing overall.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a beautifully written novel- the prose is evocative and erudite. The plot, very briefly, centres on the widow of the Magician Parsifal and her journey of discovery about him after his death. Sabine, the eponymous assistant, is a likeable and well written character that the reader cares about. Other characters are introduced, such as the secret family that Parsifal left behind. The structure is unusual in that the opening sentence-"Parsifal is dead"- denotes the death of someone who is, in fact, one of the lead characters, present on every page, although not always a speaking part, it must be said.

Sabine goes from a sun kissed LA life with all the glamour and wealth that entails into the heart of an ordinary family in snow bound Nebraska. Life is normal and small and ordinary but it acts as succour to Sabine who welcomes them enfolding her into the family.

The isolation of Nebraska and its small town feel is evoked acutely, especially in contrast to the open roads, sunshine, and freedom of LA. The family ties she finds herself wrapped in are strong and fervent. However, the author has a point to make, and having read and enjoyed this book, I'm still not entirely sure what it was. As a portrait of grief, it's very good. As a portrait of family life, it's very good, and as a portrait of small town life, it's also very good. I am still left slightly non plussed, but it was a pleasant experience. Maybe she's saying that the family who loves us isn't always the family we're born into. Or something. It's not clear and I am only guessing. She reminded me a bit of Ann Tyler. I will probably read more by this author, but if I don't like the next one, that'll be it for me, I'm afraid.
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