on 3 December 2010
I love this book as I have long been a fan of Derren Brown, and I'm very interested in the way he thinks.This book is entirely comprised of descriptions of his thought processes, insecurities and childhood memories, providing a very personal insight into his life.
Yes, as many negative reviewerss have pointed out, Derren tends to ramble on somewhat, making use of sometimes overlapping multiple-page footnotes, in which he will often go off at several tangents, necessitating a backwards traversal through both pages and thought processes, to find the place at which he left off. But rather than seeming unstructured, I think that this is part of the books charm and appeal.
And yes, Derren uses long words, but again I can't see how that is a negative, unless your vocabulary is somewhat below average. I for one find it refreshing to read a book by a 'celebrity' who has a good command of the English language and isn't afraid to use it. If you find that frustrating, perhaps something like Chris Moyles' autobiography would be more appealing.
If you like Derren's TV shows, but aren't particularly interested in the man himself, or magic/conjuring in general, then you may not get much enjoyment from this book. But if like me, you are fascinated by what goes on in the mind of such a person, then I think you'll find it an enjoyable and interesting read.
This is one of the strangest books I've ever read, and believe me - I've read some strange books.
What this book isn't:
- An autobiography, although much of it is supposedly autobiographical.
- A book about magic, although magic appears in it.
- A "how I do my tricks" book, like his "Tricks Of The Mind" book.
- A TV tie-in.
So what exactly is it? Well, each chapter uses Derren's performance of a card trick as its opening, and then things kind of wander off in other directions, almost like somebody telling you a story and then heading off on tangents, eventually returning to the central strand before veering off once more. It's an amiable ramble, a bit waffly if I'm honest, and full of footnotes, graphs and line drawings to expand upon points mentioned, but by the end I was still confused, wondering what exactly I'd read as I didn't know much more about the man, his work, magic... or anything really, apart from his thoughts on "Monster Munch" crisps, mushrooms, and poached eggs (seriously). In a way it would be a bit like seeing a magician do a trick where he says "pick a card, look at it, don't tell me what it is, and put it back in the deck," before he shuffles the cards, burns the deck, places a glass sculpture of an elephant in front of you and says "I'll let you think about that one," before wandering off. It's enjoyable, but deeply mystifying, and I can't help but wonder if, should I read it again, it would all suddenly click into place and somehow it would all make sense.
Confused? You will be. I enjoyed reading this, despite how confused it left me, but if you want a straight autobiography or a book about what Derren does, or magic in general, you'll be disappointed. Should you be looking for a book on Derren's act you should look at "Tricks of the Mind", and those who want an autobiography should maybe wait until something else comes along, but for now this is a wonderfully entertaining read where there is maybe more than meets the eye.
Recommended, but maybe wait until the paperback if you're uncertain.
on 9 September 2011
What a curious oddity this book is.
One imagines the publishers at Channel 4 anticipating huge interest in another book from mentalist Derren Brown and urging him to push out another tome. "It doesn't matter what it's about, just write something, anything - whatever comes to mind" one imagines them saying. And judging by this book, that is exactly what our favourite mind bender has done.
`Confessions of a Conjuror' is a rambling, chaotic collection of (often tedious) anecdotes brought to you by an author who wants you to be aware of such riveting topics as: his procedure for cutting his fingernails, his thoughts on the use of a handkerchief to wipe one's nose, and, as the blurb on the back cover so proudly boasts, his speculations on the manufacturing of Monster Munch. The majority of Brown's observations and revelations are so mundane and inconsequential that one can't quite decide whether he wants you to know everything about him or nothing at all.
The glue that binds this riveting trivia together is a detailed account of a magic trick performed by the author in his younger days to both intrigued and indifferent diners of a busy restaurant. Somehow Brown skilfully manages to describe the trick in great detail without giving too much away. These fascinating sections allow Brown the opportunity to demonstrate and describe his unique blend of psychology, magic, misdirection, and showmanship. They are also where his literary skills become most apparent and lead one to wonder whether a novel would have been a more appropriate outlet for Brown's talents.
Sadly, although these lucid, erudite interludes save the book from being a complete washout, they seem lost amongst the parade of Proustian moments that pepper its pages. `Confessions of a Conjurer' fails to live up to its claim of being "a refreshing alternative to autobiography that will charm and delight you" and instead leaves you wondering what its purpose actually is. Mind-numbing analyses (such as the 11-page footnote examination of elevator behaviour) are mingled with mildly amusing comedic observations and dusted with a light sprinkling of awkward autobiographical reflection. It's as if Brown wanted to shake off his mysterious mentalist persona in the most embarrassing way possible.
I was hoping that the disjointed weirdness of this book was actually building to a mind-blowing climax worthy of one of Derren's stage shows. Sadly this was not the case. Derren Brown has once again succeeded in baffling his audience but, this time, not for the right reasons.
on 25 October 2010
As befits an illusionist, Derren Brown is himself somewhat of an enigma. He obviously has a very quick mind, and an excellent grasp of human behaviour and how to manipulate it. As a performer, he offers his audiences an entertaining and potentially transformative experience without, apparently, exploiting anyone. A nice, self-assured man. However, the picture he paints here is of someone rather ill at ease with himself, subject (at least in the past) to compulsions ranging from the incovenient to the downright dangerous, and over-anxious to please. These are truly 'Confessions' (I wonder what other C word he considered before settling on 'Conjuror') and the degree of self-loathing he describes is surprising in a celebrity autobiography.
Not sure why, but I am reminded of Derren Brown's piece on 'Barnum statements' that seem very personal but apply to almost everyone. I am also aware that misdirection must be second nature to him. Perhaps the thing to do is leave the book for a while and then reread it with an eye open for alternative interpretations.
Overall. I think those of us who find Derren Brown interesting as a person - and there are plenty of them - will get most from this book, Anyone wanting to know how he does his 'tricks' should look elsewhere, and I'm not sure it quite stands on its own merits as a piece of writing. I hate to criticise a man who is more self-critical than the harshest of reviewers, but the verbose style, use of extensive footnotes and occasional pedantry can be irritating. Actually, thinking about it, it's reminiscent of Stephen Fry in lots of ways, including the self-revelatory tone, but without his light touch. Having said all that, it is very funny in parts, and Derren Brown IS a nice man.
on 6 January 2011
Because I payed considerably more to get this book in the US for christmas, the many reviews had me worried that this book, like a few others I've read, would give me the sinking feeling of disappointment and boredom. Of course this is made worse by an author I not only like, but have enjoyed reading and watching. So I entered the book not with lower expectations, but with a search to find what was so disliked by others. I found that I was once again nearly thwarted my own behavior of reading too many reviews before reading a book. Maybe it's a mistake in marketing, but people seemed to have expected something more straight forward from Derren, which is always a mistake. Even if I had expected something else, I don't know that it would be as annoying as I have read from others reactions.
Of course I cannot say the other reviewers are wrong, because this might not have been what engages them. But I not only was never bored, but can put this book in the page-turner category. A short and fine list among non-fiction in my reading world. More than once or twice I had to smile, knowing exactly what Derren was talking about, and pleased someone put it into words. The weaving around the story of the card trick was perfectly done. The trick itself was interesting and more so from the point of view of the one carrying it out. The pages of footnotes were far from annoying when one realizes that this is just comical or descriptive side story which allows more sight into his world. I didn't understand the frustration in other reviews, as I had no problem picking up where the footnote cut in. The writing itself wasn't as drawn out as I had read, though that could be a result of my own reading taste. If you're on the fence because of negative reviews, my advice is to go ahead and get the book,if you're a fan. Where as Tricks of the Mind is better (as a first read of his two) for those who aren't.
on 19 November 2010
This book is very hard to describe. It reads like Derren sat down at his laptop and just went off on one. Derren's stories (I suppose I should say whimsies as the word "whimsy" appears on nearly every page it seems) are woven together by one card trick that is taking place in a Bristol restaurant. This trick comes to its finale on the last page of the book.
Derren is clearly a great thinker and there are some brilliant pages of writing, particularly when he describes being crass with someone due to lack of confidence. He manages to hit the nail on the head at times. Subjects such as Derren being irritated by losing his beloved pens in his flat or how he decides to take the lift or stairs in his apartment are covered. There are many funny anecdotes such as when Derren shuts his eyes and lets an old wheelchair bound woman freewheel down a hill in Croydon.
Unfortunately my motivation to finish the book waned due to the book's trivial nature. Much of the most trivial topics are placed in footnotes that run from page to page. One such footnote takes up three quaters of ten pages (believe it or not). At times, his thoughts go on and he simply puts a colon: and then continues the same sentence for the whole page which makes hard reading unless you are sharp as a razor.
To be fair, the book reads like a mind download from Derren, sitting or scurrying around his two apartments-knocked-into-one and putting those thoughts into writing (whether frivolous or not) and I suppose that was the purpose. Clearly no attempt to write down to the reader was made as Derren reaches deep down into his mental thesauraus to pluck the most arcane words from obscurity.
This book is certainly unique. I suppose you will love it or hate it. Derren is capable of much more than this effort however.
on 18 August 2011
This is a wonderfully warm, endearing, funny...and utterly bonkers book. I absolutely loved it.
The scene is set on a rainy night in Bristol, where a pre-fame Derren is performing magic tricks at restaurant tables. His precise descriptions and snappy observations of the venue, patrons and waiting staff set the scene... (the 'Parmesan Moment' refers to that slightly awkward gap in the conversation, no matter how trivial, that always tends to occur when the waiter brings the Parmesan over) and then we're off on a rambling and whimsical journey through Derren's childhood, adolescence and random thoughts, all constructed around a card trick he does for a group of participants at a table; the development of which we keep coming back to at various points throughout the book.
The book is written in a nattily conversational style, as though you're sat across from Derren himself whilst he recounts a story from his childhood...which then reminds him of the songs he hums whilst cleaning his teeth...which then makes him think about a maddening encounter he had with someone from his apartment building. It's an autobiography of sorts, but really it's a veritable rollercoaster ride of neurotic observation, excessive childhood habits and intelligent insight...for me it's exactly the kind of mad, delightful conversation I wish I could have in person with people I like in real life!
Some other reviewers have mentioned the footnotes, which are certainly lengthy, but for me these only added to the charm of the book. Some of them mention encounters and little anecdotes which literally had me crying with laughter (I originally attempted to describe one here as an example, but decided this would be impossible without the context and Derren's wonderful turns of phrase - I'd probably end up putting people off buying the book completely).
As a lot of the other reviewers have mentioned, this book is very different from 'Tricks of the Mind', which I also enjoyed immensely. However, I think I liked this one more as it felt a lot more personal, plus the tone of this book is very uplifting. I was disappointed to have finished it!
'Confessions of a Conjuror' is definitely more, as the cover suggests, a journey through Derren's mind rather than a journey through his career and tips on how to replicate some of his tricks. So if that appeals, and you're a fan of Derren the man as well as (or instead of!) his shows, then you may well enjoy this as much as I did.
on 20 January 2011
I'm a big Derren Brown fan. I watch him on TV, I've seen him live, I've read stuff he's written and even - fleetingly - met him. So I was pleased to find a copy of this book under the Christmas tree.
Proust starts with a madeleine. Brown starts with a pack of cards. But both use this as a jumping off point for a stream of introspection that takes them through their lives. We learn of Derren's childhood, how he got into magic, where he lives, what his favourite playing cards are, even the books he keeps in his loo. We learn more intimate details too, sometimes bordering on Too Much Information. And we get his opinions on everything from the existence of God to the importance of kindness in daily life.
Derren Brown being, I think, I genuinely kind man (or so a friend who's met him less fleetingly than me assures me) and intelligent and reasonably well-informed, I enjoyed reading his views. But I read them in the same way as I listen to the views of a friend on the great issues of the day. If I wasn't already predisposed to like him and pay him some attention, I'd probably just find him boring and opinionated.
As the book goes on, it rambles more and more until the footnotes are longer than the text. (No, really, by the end there are pages with more footnote than text.) It becomes steadily more self-indulgent. The weirdest thing is that at the end he thanks his editor. You have to ask: if this is what it looks like after editing, what on earth was it like before?
So is it worth reading? Well, I enjoyed it, even if some of the last few chapters began to seem a little wearing. But, as I said, I'm a big fan. If you don't like Derren Brown, I imagine this book will drive you mad. So 4* if you're a fan, 1* if you're not. He's got a lot of fans and, like I say, he's a nice man. So let's settle for 3* overall.
on 20 June 2012
This book is brilliant. It's not your average autobiography by any means, but is instead a refreshing style of real-life tale-telling to the highest degree. I loved it.
I don't want to focus too much on the low reviews of this book; however, I feel it is necessary to clear up what I feel has been missed by some readers. Also, while I'm on this point, I don't want to discredit others reviews for how they feel towards the book.
The title itself can be a misleading enticement into what the book entails. This book does not let the reader in on how Derren executes his tricks and the secrets behind them (all but one which is a foundation for the entire book), but alternatively explores certain aspects of his childhood, how he got into magic, his overall thought processes, and, amongst other things, tells us of his irritating battle with duvet covers in a chain hotel. It is not a deep, heart-wrenching journey, exploiting private aspects of his life.
The book flits from the explanation of the trick, which is the backdrop for the book, to his vivid and beautifully described confessions. At first, I thought this was digressing rather than tension building and was afraid I'd find it frustrating. A couple of chapters in, however, I found myself comfortable with his choice of prose and could not put the book down. I was simply hooked and there were many moments I cried with laughter.
His narrative leans heavily on the intellectual side. As some have already mentioned, this can come across as pompous and unnecessary, along with a strong reliance of a dictionary. At first I thought the former, but then realised that this is Derren Brown. His book, to me, shows an honest portrayal of himself and it would be in fact unnecessary for him to tone his work down simply to benefit the buyer an easy read. This would be phoney and pointless for both you the reader, and more importantly, Derren. (I don't think he's wrote the book to come across clever; it's simply the way he is, and to me comes across as quite a humble person)
I highly recommend this book to those who are intrigued and fascinated by Derren; a desire to understand his witty and whimsical outlook and his intelligent yet quirky approach to life; and would advise those enjoy his performances looking to discover his secrets and a trite, plain, easy read, to stay clear. You'll be disappointed.
on 12 January 2011
Some people clearly don't 'get' this book, and fair enough. It is very different from anything you've ever read before. Other people have described the style, so I won't try, but I WILL say that if you're an only child (Derren was an only child until he was 10 years old) and/or ever felt like a bit of an outsider that didn't quite fit in, you should definitely read this. You will empathise completely and probably gain some valuable insights. I literally couldn't put this book down, and by the end felt as though I'd actually read about 50 different books (from self-help to cookery) distilled though the genius of Derren's mind. Brilliant!