With a great cast of eccentric characters, this is a very funny and very clever story of grifts, cons and magicians. Brill asks how much of our character is governed by our memories and what if we could forget the most painful ones?
If you are a fan of the BBC’s ‘Hustle’ series, you will absolutely love Marius Brill’s ‘How to Forget’. It’s a funny, clever and twisted tale of grifters and con tricks with a bit of magic thrown in for good measure. Brill gives us a cast of strange characters: there’s an ethically dubious brain scientist, a dodgy Derren Brown-type TV celebrity whose interests are guarded by two violent but somewhat hapless Hasidic Jewish thugs, an equally violent FBI agent and a female British copper. At the heart of the story though is an apparently naïve British magician, Peter, and a supreme grifter, Kate, in whose life Peter finds himself entangled.
At first, it can take a while to get into the book as the breadth of the characters and their stories take a while to unfold. This is compounded by the meta-concept that Brill adopts that the book itself is a compilation of the basic manuscript and the scientist’s own papers, so just when the story appears to get going, there are pseudo-academic papers on the science of the mind. Thankfully this abates somewhat later in the book and the annoyance factor is minimized by the fact that Dr Tavasligh is unlike any academic you’ve ever read in that his papers are often very funny in themselves. At first though, partly because the two main characters, Peter and Kate, are so interesting it can be a little frustrating not to get on with their story.
While on the subject of the main characters, I’m still a little bemused by the choice of names. Kate’s full name is Catherine Minola while Peter’s is Peter Ruchio. Obviously this is a reference to Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ (Pete Ruchio – Petruchio) which could be seen to be an indicator or what appears to be Kate’s situation – a strong, independent woman who may or may not conform to society – but it’s a bit of a stretch and that was a feeling that I had about much of the, very funny, humour throughout the book. The similes in particular are a bit off the wall but often hilarious, but it seems at times as if the story gets stretched to make the joke rather than the jokes flowing naturally out of the story. It’s a minor point but I did find it a little irritating and a bit ‘show-off-ish’. And to return to the names issue, Peter is as far removed from Shakespeare’s Petruchio as it is possible to be. It seems to me a strange choice of names when a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
What Brill does, well Brilliantly is to keep the reader guessing about what is real and what is illusion. There’s plenty of good old magician-style misdirection but you don’t feel that you are being deliberately led astray. Much like a good magician really. Once you get into the meat of the second part of the book in particular the story rattles along without interruption and takes you from the US, to the English south coast, via Paris and New Zealand.
The bottom line is that it’s a joy to read and each time I picked it up I found myself smiling at the prospect and when I put it down, smiling at the story, which is not a bad recommendation. It’s clearly well researched, both in terms of the magician aspects and the workings of the brain, but this seldom gets in the way of the story. If you are looking for a funny, but intelligent and highly original story, this is a great choice.
Our thanks to the kind folk at Doubleday who didn’t forget to send a copy to The Bookbag.
For more clever playing with the reader’s mind, then look no further than The Afterparty by Leo Benedictus while for a more serious look at the workings of forgetfulness then remember to also read the remarkable Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson.
You can read more book reviews and buy How to Forget by Marius Brill at Amazon and Waterstones