Volunteering at my local library, I got to check out all the new books as they came out. I remember when I first laid eyes on this one and singled it out as “of interest,” but that category was so full already that I didn’t pick it up immediately. Fortunately, it reappeared on my radar and I came back to read it. This is my review.
Who hasn’t heard of the great Houdini? Slightly lesser known is his longtime co-performer and marriage partner, this book’s titular “Mrs. Houdini.” This is a great exploration of the more prominent events and triumphs of the Houdinis’ public and private lives and gives insight into their times and contemporaries.
But this book is billed as an immortal romance, a tryst beyond the grave, an entanglement that transcends death itself. Does that sound like Wuthering Heights to anyone but me? Unfortunately, it is not Wuthering Heights. What it is is perhaps a more mundane historical work while still capturing that sparkle of magic in its revelation of Houdini’s obsession and the realisation of his, and Mrs. Houdini’s, dreams.
Some elements of the construction are done very well. For example, the Houdinis’ militancy and sharpness on the lookout for spiritualist scammers becomes the setup for one of the most subtly executed and emotionally charged moments of the novel when one of them is on the brink of a realisation about the other that they had never known and did not now want to admit to themselves, and therefore tries to write it off as a clever trick staged to shatter their illusions.
The most poignant lines of the book unfortunately stand out starkly in contrast to the somewhat under-developed and less-polished style of the rest of the narrative, but remain nonetheless beautiful: “Now she was reunited with the old city, except it was larger and more glamorous than it had been thirty years earlier… Certainly, she could not help being saddened that the place she had loved had become better without her; that she had left for a better life that had disappointed her, and stood now in a past that had blossomed alone.” Perfect.
Taken altogether, though, this book didn’t stand out to me, but is definitely worth a read for those interested in Houdini, magic, the turn of the twentieth century, and/or spiritualism.
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