Steven Galloway explores the fickle nature of memory in The Confabulist, his novel about one of the world’s greatest magicians, Harry Houdini.
But like his 2008 critical and commercial success, The Cellist of Sarajevo — a fictionalised account of real-life cellist Vedran Smailović who was incensed when Galloway used the account of him performing on the streets of Sarajevo during the city’s siege — the new novel is no biography.
Instead, The Confabulist is about human memory and its untenability. Narrated mainly by Martin Strauss — a fictional character — who believed that his repeated punches to Houdini’s stomach caused a ruptured appendix that killed the magician in 1926 — a factual event — The Confabulist readily mixes both fiction and fact to explore a life that seems, at times, quite unreal.
Galloway, 38, talks to Reuters about writing The Confabulist, meeting the ‘real’ cellist of Sarajevo, and the ways in which lives are shaped by events that may never have happened.