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Questions and Topics for Discussion


What is real and what is an illusion? Can you trust your memory to provide an accurate record of what has happened in your life?

The Confabulist is a clever , entertaining, and suspenseful narrative that weaves together the rise and fall of world-famous Harry Houdini with the surprising story of Martin Strauss, an unknown man whose fate seems forever tied to the magician’s in a way that will ultimately startle and amaze. It is at once a vivid portrait of an alluring, late-nineteenth/early-twentieth-century world; a front- row seat to a world-class magic show; and an unexpected love story. In the end, the book is a kind of magic trick in itself: there is much more to Martin than meets the eye.

Historically rich and ingeniously told, this is a novel about magic and memory, truth and illusion, and the ways that love, hope, grief, and imagination can-for better or for worse-alter what we perceive and believe.


Steven Galloway lives in British Columbia and teaches creative writing at the University of British Coumbia.

  • The Confabulist ultimately poses the question can we trust our memories to provide an accurate record of what has actually happened to us in our lives? What do you think the answer is? Did the book make you think differently about your own memories of your past and how accurate they might be, how others might have remembered the same events differently?

  • Have you ever known anyone with an illness that affected his or her memory? Did the novel in any way change your understanding of that experience?

  • At what point did you realize that Martin’s relationship to Houdini might not be as he was remembering it? Which of the Martin-Clara memories do you think really happened and which were unintentionally invented?

  • As The Confabulist makes clear, magic tricks take advantage of the human mind’s tendency to make assumptions and become distracted. How does Steven Galloway employ these techniques in telling the story of Martin and his relationship with Houdini? Do you see how the Houdini story in the book is its own kind of magic trick, and Martin, as narrator, is our unwitting magician?

  • What is Alice’s true relationship to Martin? What parallels do you think Alice sees between Martin, as she has known and remembers him, and the version of Houdini he shares with her?

  • What role does history play in The Confabulist? Where is the line drawn about what history knows for a fact about Houdini, about what some people suspect, and about what Martin’s mind invented? Are there clear distinctions? In this way, might it be possible to compare our public understanding of history with our personal understanding of our memories of ourselves?

  • The idea of secrets is threaded throughout The Confabulist. How does keeping a secret change how you interact with the people around you? How does it change your relationship to what the truth really is? Think not only in terms of the book, when answering, but also beyond it.

  • Think about the larger implications of false memory. In what way can false memory be destructive? In what way can it be something positive?
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