Science fiction and fantasy
by Kaaron Warren
As well as performing magic, Marvo makes it his life's mission to collect stories. The text is peppered with the short yarns he gathers as he barters his services in return for a certain version of truth. The storytellers aren't always honest, though. People's desire to believe comforting lies is a common thread that runs through many of the tales.
I did have problems with the formal way these stories were told. In fact the whole novel is related in this way, with omniscient narration and short, clipped sentences. I found it too impersonal because it often makes it hard to distinguish between one voice and another, and there's little chance to see things from each character's point of view. Nothing about stories requires them to be told impersonally. When you're getting down and dirty with another's thoughts, feelings and intimate lives in a narrative, that's about as personal as it's possible to be with your clothes still on. The formal style in Mistification diminishes the impact of this.
As Marvo learns more he develops a friendship with the odd, quiet, superstitious Andra. Some would call Andra a witch. At this point you might suppose the author might introduce some romance, but this isn't a conventional story and it can't be expected to conform to any standard pattern. In the middle of the novel the tension is fairly lax until the appearance of Dr Reid, a sceptic who sees Marvo as a threat. Then Marvo has premonitions of a terrible future, and perhaps his own death. But what lengths will he go to in order to prevent it, and is it even in his power to change his fate?
Mistification gathers momentum towards the end, but like its main character it is always subtle and rarely violent. The stories-within-a-story begin to come together so that they're greater than their individual parts. Death, superstition, strange births, and the need to believe the best of oneself are some of the themes that appear in a lot of them.
The ending is startling and strange. The imagery and events put me in mind of a certain religious story, but this isn't in your face and readers are left to draw their own conclusions about what this means. There's certainly a lot to think about, and Marvo is more compelling than a quiet, oddly sexless magician whose main passion is for stories has any right to be. But the novel's unorthodox style is challenging. This book is hard to engage with, and for no good reason I can fathom Kaaron Warren has deliberately written it this way (she refers to the formal style in the book itself), although it's worth the effort.
24th May 2011
If you like this, try:Sleights of Mind by Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde with Sandra Blakeslee
This book explores the things magicians can teach neuroscientists about the way our minds work.
Paranormality by Richard Wiseman
The science behind seeing ghosts, believing psychics, and how brainwashing works.
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