Mentalist/magician Derren Brown's new memoir, Confessions of a Conjuror, is a very odd sort of book. Technically, it's a kind of autobiography, but what it really is is a kind of meandering shaggy dog story that presents narrative in the same way that a great conjuror presents a trick.
Brown begins by recounting a night from the start of his career, when he was performing close-up table magic at a restaurant in Bristol. He recounts in eidetic detail his nervous thought processes as he begins his work for the night, conjuring up the scene with language. And then, just as you think he's about to tell you about the trick he performs, he veers off into a meandering story about the effect that the smell of pink industrial soap and blue ink has on him, taking him back to his unhappy school days. This seems to just be a kind of stalling trick, but when Brown returns to the present day, you find that the anaecdote has a purpose, that it explains the way he approaches the performance he is about to give.
The description of the performance inches forward, and then, again, Brown wanders off the road to explore the hedges, more stories about his boyhood, about his personal habits, about the things he hates about himself, about his little compulsions, about his work habits. And so the story inches along, pushing forward just a nudge on the trick in the restaurant, then going for a long stroll around memory lane, and these asides take over the book, and they develop their own asides, in the form of sprawling, multi-page footnotes, and so forth, but each time you pop up one layer through the narrative, you discover that you've been informed of something vital to understanding the layer above it. Read the rest