I have to confess that on starting this book I had the wrong end of the stick. I had thought it was a novel based around the life of young magician; a book not unlike Marius Brill’s excellent ‘How to Forget’, a book I loved.
It started promisingly; our hero is at an international magic competition, where he vies to become magic’s Olympic champion. He fails in a humiliating fashion, returns home, tail between his legs, and gives up magic forever. After taking a position in a physics lab, he gradually finds himself drawn back into a murky world of sleight of hand and three card monte.
The more I read, the more dissatisfied I became. The story didn’t seem to be moving very fast and each chapter felt more like factual description of a facet of the magic world. I read the back of the book, ‘Magic/Psychology’. I read the blurb, ‘Stone reveals the principles and history of some of the greatest tricks ever performed’.
Oh. It IS a factual description of the magical world. Non fiction, not fiction! With this rather important realisation made, I could settle down and really enjoy the book.
‘Performing magic puts you in the awkward position of having to deceive the very people whose approval you seek to win.’
Fooling Houdini is more than just descriptions and explanations of well-worn tricks. There is lots of insightful information about the psychology of magic, in respect to both performers and audience. Stone suggests that the draw of magic is that it allows us to feel like children again. The idea that the suspension of natural laws makes us question the world around us is a powerful one. We are filled with wonder at the unknown. Magic is a deception that rejuvenates us.
Stone is an articulate companion; an obsessive but self-aware, geeky practitioner of sleight of hand. His self-effacing prose style is engaging. The book is interesting throughout, peppered with information that elevates it towards something special. In magic we find more than a little of what makes the world tick.
I particularly enjoyed the sections about magic and science. Once, the two disciplines went hand in hand, but now they make uneasy bedfellows. Stone shows how one can inform the other. There is some simple yet elegant maths, that whilst counterintuitive make perfect sense. It will ensure that you never look at a deck of cards the same way again. This, combined with some touching portraits of the art’s biggest characters, makes Fooling Houdini a very good read. You’ll like this. A lot.
Many Thanks to the team at Windmill Books for sending me a copy of this book.