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The Magician's Wife Paperback – 7 Sep 1998

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo; New edition edition (7 Sept. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006551106
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006551102
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 12.8 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,491,628 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Brian Moore is best known for his mysteries of faith and fanaticism. The Statement focuses on a murderously unrepentant Vichy collaborator whom the French Catholic church has long sheltered. And in The Colour of Blood--set in an unnamed Iron Curtain country--a cardinal wonders if people aren't using religion "as a sort of politics". Religion and politics again feature in The Magician's Wife, but this time they are accompanied by their long-time companion, illusion. Once again, France is the setting--Second Empire France, though, along with its prospective colony, Algeria.

Moore opens the novel with a bizarre detail. It is 1856 and Emmeline Lambert watches a mechanical gatekeeper salute a departing dignitary. This nuts-and-bolts major-domo is the creation of her autocratic husband, Henri, formerly France's greatest magician, retired and hard at work on such minor contrivances. "Now he was an inventor, a scientist," Emmeline thinks. "But would a real scientist spend his days making mechanical marionettes?" Her impatience with his compulsive tinkering is only one part of a troubled marriage, which seems to consist largely of fossilized accommodations and painful discretion.

According to their visiting dignitary, however, the prestidigitator's country needs him. Colonel Deniau, head of Arab affairs and in many ways the real magician of the tale--or the magician's enchanter--has a mysterious project in mind. The plan is to flatter Henri into creating a series of mind-blowing tricks. According to the colonel, an Algerian marabout, or living saint, is "said to possess miraculous powers" and might call for a holy war. If Henri outperforms the Algerian, he will seem the greater marabout "and convince them that God is not on their side but France's."

The Magician's Wife is a condemnation of colonialism, of which illusion is always a key ingredient. Moore's novel, however, is far from a tract: he infuses his drama of the past with our present anxiety. He also creates, quite literally, a magical narrative. Though the Algerians may consider Henri the devil incarnate, and his wife may slight his legerdemain, you will be awed by his fantastic skills and the apparent effortlessness with which the author relates them.


From the reviews for The Statement:

‘Unputdownable, utterly riveting’
Mark Porter, Sunday Express

‘Once you have opened its first page you won’t be able to stop reading.’
A. N. Wilson, Evening Standard

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Alexa on 17 Mar. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have never read a book, and I have read quite a few books, where the saying “never judge a book by its cover” seemed more appropriate. From the cover of this book I thought this would be quite dark, possibly about murder or intrigue, but I certainly didn’t think it would be a Philippa Gregory type historical novel. The Magician’s Wife follows Emmeline and her husband Henri as they are summoned by Napoleon III and subsequently sent to Algeria to help the French conquest of the country.

The story is based loosely on the life of real life French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin who, in 1856, was sent to Algeria to show the leaders of the country how impressive his magic tricks were with the aim of stopping them rebelling. The Magician’s Wife does follow this story though, I imagine, with a lot of liberties. The first 100 or so pages are set in France and follow Emmeline, the narrator of the story, and Henri as they travel to the French court and get given their assignment. While interesting this part of the story was a little slow as it felt more like it was just setting the scene. After this point, after travelling to Algeria , the story picked up as it followed the couple through the desert and documented their travel and Henri’s magic shows.

There was only really one major downside to the book and it was that it ended so abruptly. The whole story was wrapped up and finished within a few pages of the climax which left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. I don’t like books that drag on for ages after they should have ended but I do like all the loose ends to be tied up nicely, and in this case it felt like the author simply got bored and tied them in the simplest way possible, even when it didn’t really fit with the rest of the plot.

As a whole this was an enjoyable read but wasn't particularly special and isn't one of those books that will stay with you after you've read it.
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By A Customer on 5 Jan. 1999
Format: Paperback
The storyline focuses around the wife of Europe's leading magician who is asked by Emperor Napoleon III to show his magical skills to an Algerian holy man who is considering an announcement proclaiming that he is the Mahdi. Brian Moore sets out to show the spiritual emptiness of European colonialism and not withstanding the simple ideas and language used, he manages to get his point across fairly well towards the end of the book. Algeria is beautifully portrayed, as is the 'magician's castle' in France. Worth the read, although a work of literary beauty should not be expected.
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By Scholastica on 19 Dec. 2010
Format: Paperback
I have say that I was unsure as to whether I would enjoy this book - I didn't know if I would find the mid-19th century setting a challenge and nor was I sure about a storyline with illusion at its' centre. However, after a slow start, I soon found myself lost in the story and caught up in the moral complexities of the French in their colonisation of northern Africa. Ultimately, it's a sad story, exposing the emptiness of doing things for the wrong reasons, but this is no reason not to read it. This would make a good book club read.
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By A Customer on 21 Jan. 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a very good account of France under Napoleon III and its bourgeois society. It lacks action and I certainly did not find it as entertaining as "Lies of Silence". The characters and the action in general are quite predictable and the description of Algeria is what interested me most.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 42 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A very pleasant surprise 11 July 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I read this book only because it was the assigned book for my book club. I did not expect to like it. Was I ever surprised. I loved it! The vivid descriptions of everything, the landscape, the people, the food, the events as well as the author's ability to let the reader into Emmeline's head made me feel as though I were part of the story. And what suspense!! Now I want to read Mr. Moore's "The Statement." Also, the cover art is really pretty!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
something for everyone 14 Sept. 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Here's a very good novel with something for everyone. Written by an Irish man who lived in California about a French woman in Africa--and all this multicultural material comes together with amazing naturalness. It's about cultural and political awakening in the 19th century. The title character accompanies her husband to North Africa. He's on a secret mission: his magic act is a cover for French imperialistic goals in the region. Partly because she is a highly sensitive and observant person, and partly because she is attracted to a native man, she becomes aware of the attractions of the area's culture and consequently leery of the French machinations. This is not a political sermon--it's thoroughly dramatized and stylistically beautiful. The Fox.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
What is all the praise about? 17 Mar. 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I'm still baffled over the praise this novel has received. I'd never heard of Brian Moore but I read a review in the Boston Globe and was intrigued by the storyline and setting. I was totally disappointed. This book is bland and amateurishly written. Sketchy characterization at best. Everything is flat and plain. This has the potential to be an incredible story in the hands of an author who could actually flesh it out. Much of the dialogue is laughably cliched and the (very) brief and cursory passages of the heroine's "awakening consciousness" made me groan. This could've been a rich, evocative novel. It'll make a great movie (cashing in on the "English Patient" desert thing.) The novel actually feels like a plot treatment for a movie. It's very superficial, with characters who never for a moment feel as if they are remotely real. There is practically no visually descriptive passages to give you a true sense of place. And the characters and their stilted, generic dialogue only further displace the reader from any sense of being immersed in this potentially vivid scenery. Indeed, this novel could've used some "bloated" descriptions to give it some weight. It's very slight and artificial and not the slightest bit provocative. It's "alleged" insights into faith, cross-cultural experiences, etc. are entirely pedestrian. (It reads like an undergrad writing workshop paper.) Again. This could've been a great story. Like someone mentioned earlier, it's a disappointment. (And I'm still confused as to what all the hubbub is about.) (p.s. -- The only thing I really liked about this novel is the cover art!)
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A beautifully understated tale of inner strife. 7 May 1999
By Margaret Fiore - Published on
Format: Paperback
More fabulous storytelling from Brian Moore. An intelligent and sensitive woman, married to a controlled and remote, but fascinating man, Emmeline is bored, self-indulgent, contemplative, and aware of all of these. Thrust into an episode in high society, she is seduced by its glitter and facade of importance, and repelled by its cruelty and pettiness. Her husband is recruited by the Emperor himself to use his magician's illusions to overawe the superstitious and religious people of Algiers. Reluctantly impressed with the beauty and simplicity of the Algerians way of life, and humbled by their religious sincerity, Emmeline finds her already strained loyalty to her husband tested further by her sympathies for the people he intends to dupe.
Moore does a wonderful job of carrying us along in Emmeline's inner struggles with her best and worst selves. She faces her own petty fascinations with social foolery and meaningless connections, and struggles to act on her inner sense of rightness. At the same time, she does not spare herself the knowledge of her own weaknesses.
Wonderfully crafted and absorbing - as have been all the Moore novels I have read so far.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating story, beautifully paced and constructed. 30 Mar. 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Anyone interested in the historical relationship between Algeria and France or between fundamentalist Muslims and Christians will find the story uniquely absorbing. The characters, however, seem created almost exclusively for the purpose of advancing the plot. We do not really get beyond the surface with the characters of Emmeline, or Lambert, or Deniau, and that limits the reader's involvement. More intriguing than any "beach book" you may read because of its subject matter, I'd have enjoyed it better if its characters were not so hollow.
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