The Manual of Darkness by Enrique de Heriz

DATE FINISHED: April 9th, 2012

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Victor Losa spends his life living up to his mentor’s accidentally overheard prediction that one day he will be “one hell of a magician”. When he quite suddenly loses his eyesight upon winning a lifetime achievement award Victor must learn to live a much different life than he has known. Victor’s journey is interwoven with the stories of various fictional and historical magicians, followed by the intervention of two very real women.

THOUGHTS:   A game of two halves, the first half of The Manual of Darkness describes the defining moments of Victor’s childhood and beyond: the death of his father, his training and learning curve as a magician, and the history of the magician’s trade via his mentor and substitute father-figure, Galvan. I found the first half interesting, especially the historical fiction of Peter Grouse slotted wthin the true history of magic and its practitioners. The only glimpses we see of Victor’s childhood directly relate to his father, and I felt a slightly broader window would not have dampened the significance of the experiences that were shared. I really enjoyed the first half of the book, but at the same time felt a slight sense of disconnection, a feeling that we only see the exterior, the ‘performance’ side of Victor.

The second half follows Victor’s reluctant rehabilitation after his sudden blindness has descended. I knew in advance that the story was about to be approached from a different angle, and I was afraid that Victor’s bitterness might be too much and ruin the magic that preceded it. However, although the tone does indeed change, there are fewer interwoven strands of story to follow, and I found that the more traditionally linear narrative flow was actually even more compelling, as finally it was possible to get under Victor’s skin. (On a side note, I can’t help but think he was extraordinarily lucky in the ‘companions’ he was sent by the two agencies – this could easily have been a very different story!)

I’ve read some clunky, awkward translations in the past that have left me wary; but this is a smooth translation from Spanish. If in places the symbolism and ‘message’ seem a little too explicitly elucidated, I still really enjoyed the story, and I am very glad I finally succumbed and gave it a chance!

FOLLOWING ON:  The latter half of the book reminded me slightly of Distance by Colin Thubron; also Mr. Vertigo by Paul Auster.  The historical backdrop of the magician’s art draws obvious parallels with The Prestige by Christopher Priest, and Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold.

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