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The Last Magician: A Novel by Janette Turner…
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The Last Magician: A Novel (original 1992; edition 2003)

by Janette Turner Hospital

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Title:The Last Magician: A Novel
Authors:Janette Turner Hospital
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (2003), Paperback, 320 pages
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The Last Magician by Janette Turner Hospital (1992)

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Showing 4 of 4
A story of childhood friendship, love, secrets, and betrayal, set (mostly) in Australia and spanning two generations. There's a criminal underground (literally underground in this case), lush verbal depictions of photographic art, and all sorts of other goodies that play into the plot here as well.

A surprise hit! Well, not really a surprise. I really like Virago as a publishing house (one of the categories in my 2014 category challenge is completely devoted to Virago books) and the critical reviews on this book were glowing, so I figured Hospital would be a good bet for a new author to try.

It was sort of slow going at first. Hospital's prose is dense and dreamy and reflects the confusion of the narrator over the events happening in her life and the lives of her friends. It was such a stark contrast to the blunt prose of The Daylight Gate that I had trouble getting into it initially - plus, I'd sort of thought it was a fantasy novel and it quickly became clear that there are no magicians in this book, not in the traditional sense anyway! Somewhere in the first third of the novel, though, my impatience turned abruptly into excitement and I could not put the book down until it was finished. There are so many little twists and turns in it, so many secrets slowly revealed, that it's as gripping as a good mystery.

The title is not a misnomer - there are definitely fantastic elements in here. The characters and their obsessions are all bigger than life; at the same time particular small details (like a pair of earrings with blue glass beads) reappear in surprising contexts and become potent symbols in the world of the story. There's a wonderful sense of setting in The Last Magician as well - I can remember the places in the novel almost as if I've been there. It really is a world unto itself.

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship. ( )
1 vote Erratic_Charmer | Jan 13, 2014 |
bargain = 1 of 29 books for $5.
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
Twenty-somethings Lucy and Gabriel are obsessed by the mysterious events that traumatised the much older foursome of Charlie, Cat, Catherine and Robinson Gray as children, and which they still haven't got over. Lucy tells the story obliquely and it is wonderfully written, full of surprises and subtle clues to what really happened, often in the form of photographs that Charlie has taken or collected (as in the film "The Draughtsman's Contract", where the draughtsman's pictures hold clues to the murder of the landowner). ( )
  isabelx | Mar 29, 2011 |
What a terrible new jacket for an eerie, gorgeous book, truly full of wonders. ( )
  juliax | Dec 7, 2005 |
Showing 4 of 4
Turner Hospital uses The Last Magician to issue a call to readers to recognise that the representation of power which she uses as her base-line, is just that: a representation, a fabrication which has been endorsed for so long that it has become a naturalised reality which legitimises exclusion and refuses recognition, relegating difference to an underground existence.
 
Hospital wields her story and characters with the larger-than-life bravura of an Expressionist allegory. Everything is deliberately too much. . . Hospital's magnifications and simplifications can be jarring, even silly, particularly before we get some hold on the outsized story her outsized methods are revealing. Yet even at her most arbitrary, the author is never careless or coarse. Her writing has perfect pitch; at its wildest, it retains a golden refinement. So do her themes, for all their odd twists. She takes many risks and most of them work; the one that doesn't is our long wandering through the dark wood of her initial montage, and the long time it may take us before we can trust her there.
 
Much of the novel's appeal lies in the ingenious ways in which discordant elements are connected and shadows are elaborately illuminated, but Ms. Hospital can also tell a traditional story with great skill. She fills her novel with evocative settings, characters we care deeply about and language that is entrancingly lyrical.
 
This is her most ambitious novel to date, if her least accessible, and a bit heavy on feline and human comparisons; memorable in its metaphor of the city's invasive underground as guilt - and sometimes magical.
 
Turner Hospital takes a tremendous story, carves it up into pleasant curly shapes, and invites us to put them together again. It is as if, since so much modern criticism insists that it is readers who effectively 'write' books, the author is damned if she is going to lift a finger to help. . . It leaves us with an uneasy feeling of warm but baffled admiration; for all her clear-minded brilliance, Turner Hospital has settled for sprightly dazzlement when all the equipment for more powerful illumination is right there, up her sleeve.
 
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In the middle of the journey, I came to myself in a dark wood where the straight way was lost.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
From the book jacket:
Half a lifetime ago, a little boy was murdered, but four children shared the terrible secret of that death. They shared something else as well: the awful knowledge that one of them bore responsibility for murder and would never be called upon to pay for it. Half a lifetime later, their lives and memories collide.

The Last Magician is about power and betrayal, about sexual obsession and social ostracism. About acts and their consequences. It is a novel about silence, shame, and guilt.

At its electric center is Lucy, good girl and whore, whose nights are spent in a kaleidoscope of identities as she dons the masks her customers demand. And Charlie, photographer, filmmaker, voyeur; voyager, master artificer, alien and exotic: the last magician. As Lucy spins the tale, so Charlie monitors the players, hunting the traitor among them even as he searches for the mysterious Cat--silent, witchy, missing, perhaps dead. At the intersection of their paths, the novel pushes at the borders of reality, demanding we rethink what is truth, what is artifice.

The Last Magician is a book of wonders: rich in literary allusion, full of language both sensuous and pungent, cyclonic in its narrative energy, it is above all a superb example of the storyteller's art.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 039332527X, Paperback)

"A story of high tension and terrifying allure....Her writing has perfect pitch."—Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times

The Last Magician is about power and betrayal, sexual obsession and social ostracism. At its center is Lucy, a good girl and a whore, whose nights are spent in a kaleidoscope of identities as she dons the masks her customers demand. Charlie is a photographer, filmmaker, voyeur, and the last magician—monitoring Lucy, piecing together the splinters of evidence surrounding the death of a child and a murder that happened half a lifetime ago. A New York Times Notable Book. Reading group guide included.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:49 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The last magician is Charlie, the photographer, who monitors and records everything as he seeks the silent Cat through physical and emotional infernos. Charlie, Cat, Robbie and Catherine shared a childhood summer in a Queensland rainforest. Death intruded on their charmed circle, binding them to complicity and silence. Decades later, festering memories seep through into the present, in the same way as the desperate underside of a corrupt Sydney breaks through into tidy lives and well-kept streets. This superb novel is richly textured and intellectually challenging, a tour de force from an elegantly seductive writer.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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W.W. Norton

An edition of this book was published by W.W. Norton.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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