The Last Magician is a wild trip through the tangled layers of a corrupt society. This confronting novel by Australian-born author, Janette Turner Hospital, examines the interconnected pasts of five Sydneysiders. All of them have pain they want to forget and a lost friend they hope to find.
A childhood tragedy connects Charlie, Catherine, Robbie, and Cat. They each have different ways of dealing with the trauma – amnesia, silence, and obsession.
Model student turned prostitute, Lucy, is our first person narrator. A generation younger than the other characters, she is an outsider to the novel’s main events. However, her unique vantage point as an invisible member of Sydney’s lowest class makes her the best eyes through which to view the story. Lucy and her lover, Robbie’s son Gabriel, are desperate to uncover the truth of their friends’ pasts.
Humankind cannot bear very much lack of meaning. If we have to experience horror, there has to be a point. There has to be. In fact, it is not the horror itself that torments us so much as the need to understand. We have to get to the heart of the labyrinth where the minotaur lurks. We want to know that the labyrinth is mappable, that there is a minotaur, there there is at least something at the core of things which is responsible for all this dread, and we want to reassure ourselves that if we trail Ariadne’s thread behind us we can find a way out again – page 332
Truth and meaning are the prevailing themes. The exact nature of the childhood trauma and the chronology of events are cloaked in mystery for much of the novel. The actual premise took until part two to come into full focus. Many details are ambiguous, leaving the reader to connect the intricate threads on their own. Lucy is a fitting narrator since she – like us readers – must gradually gather information to form an interpretation. The variety of points of view and quantity of introspection make this a layered and complex narrative.
The passing on of secrets, I think, is like the passing of time in the rainforest, strangler figs on dead hosts putting forth their new shoots, the smell of decay and the smell of yeast always there – page 383
Turner Hospital’s writing is one of a kind. Despite being exceptionally beautiful, her abstract and heady style requires enormous mental effort to read. That said, if you have the brain power to muscle your way through her web of words, her metaphors and images will haunt you forever – not least of all because confronting accounts of rape, murder, drugs, and sexual obsession pepper this painful story. The density and polished quality gave me the impressive this book should have taken a lifetime to write.
The Last Magician unpicks the seams of human psyche and examines it from every angle, before stitching it carefully back together. I have no experience as a reader I can compare to reading this book.