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Derren Brown is well known for his apparent mind-reading skills, and magical illusions.  However, he is always totally honest about the fact that he has no belief in psychic ability whatsover.  In this book, he explains much about how he does some of his tricks on stage, and delves into the subjects of memory, illusion (where he explains the basics of how some illusions are created), the power of suggestion and susceptibility, and how psychics and mediums carry out their work – and the truth behind their ‘skills’.

I should say that I am a huge fan of Derren Brown, and was therefore perhaps predisposed into liking this book.  However, I think that anyone who had never heard of him would also find this a very entertaining read.  

At the beginning of the book, after a brief introduction as to how Brown came to be interested in his subject, he teaches a few simple tricks with coins and cards.  

There is then a subject on memory, with some tips and exercises for improving yours).  I liked this section a lot, and have tried the ‘linking’ system myself with measurable success.  I did feel that this section got a little bit bogged down, especially when talking about the ‘peg’ system (the system seemed harder to remember than it would be to recall whatever it is that it’s supposed to help you remember!).  

The sections on hypnosis and seances were very fascinating, exposing much about how these work.  

However, most interesting to me was the part where Brown talks about psychics and mediums, and shows how they can fool an audience using intuition and cunning and confusion (but no psychic ability) to yield apparently incredible results.  I would mention that of course many people have found much needed comfort from such quarters, and may find this part of the book upsetting for this reason.  I do not believe in the abilities of those who claim to be able to contact the dead, and therefore I thoroughly enjoyed reading about it.  Brown does go on something of a mild rant, due to his belief that such people prey on their audiences’ grief and distress.  He breaks down and analyses how psychics (particularly those who have made a celebrity career out of their work) fool their audiences, cheat and use their guile.

During the whole book, Brown makes for an engaging, witty and involved narrator, with a style instantly recognisable to anybody who has ever seen any of this television or live shows.

There is also a comprehensive list of suggested further reading at the back of the book, on all of the subjects covered.

Overall, definitely recommended and not only for fans of Derren Brown.  This book is challenging, funny and insightful.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This book has some terrific writing, but a storyline that does not match up to it.

To be fair, when I started reading this book I was quickly hooked, and felt that it might even become one of my absolute favourites.  Unfortunately, the ending felt rushed, was pretty predictable and let down the book. 

Still, it was a worthwhile read.  The main character – and the narrator – is William Wilson, a down-on-his-luck conjuror from Glasgow.  Hoping to make his fortune, he takes a job in Berlin and ends up recruiting a mysterious American girl named Sylvie as his assistant.  The story flicks back and forth between Berlin and Glasgow, as it slowly reveals the dark events that took place in Berlin, and how they have brought William to his present state of despair.  To say much more would be to give too much of the story away.  However, one minor gripe is that there was a seemingly unnecessary sub-plot regarding a decades old disappearance of a lady, which Wilson ends up becoming embroiled in.  The loss of this particular storyline would have not affected the book in any way, although it was in itself not an unenjoyable diversion from the main story.

William was well developed as a character – a man who has fallen on hard times, and hopes that his intelligence and cunning will be able to get him out of it.  The other characters were also well developed, even if the story was sometimes a little too incredible to be easily believable.

The real beauty of this book was in the elegant and wonderfully descriptive writing, which was worth taking time to savour.

Overall, while I did feel that the ending was something of an anti climax, this book did raise my interest enough to make me seek out more work by this author.

 

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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