The Magician's Wife

Brian Moore, Author
Brian Moore, Author Dutton Books $23.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-525-94400-3
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Few contemporary writers are both as versatile and as unfailingly provocative as Moore, whose forte is exposing the wellsprings of character and the motivations of behavior in particular moral and political environments. Here, he moves from his preoccupation with recent European history (The Statement, etc.) to a historical novel set in 1850s France and Algeria. Emmeline Lambert is the wife of Henri Lambert, the most celebrated magician in France. Emperor Napoleon III, concerned about a possible uprising in Algiers, asks Lambert to put on a performance there that will convince the Arab sheikhs of the superiority of European magic to the powers of a charismatic marabout, Bou-Aziz, who is urging his followers to oust the French in a holy war. Beautiful but unsophisticated Emmeline, neglected by her ambitious husband, is manipulated by handsome, mysterious Colonel Deniau, chief of the Bureau Arabe, whose seductive behavior may be a ploy to ensure her cooperation with his schemes. When a crisis ensues, Emmeline experiences an epiphany that opens her eyes to her husband's failings and her nation's perfidy. Her actions at this point are more dramatic than credible, however, momentarily betraying Moore's usual finesse. But Moore is masterful in depicting how the decadent pomp and ceremony of Napoleon's court is echoed even in French provincial outposts, and how the simplicity of remote Arab villages and the vast Sahara desert reinforce Emmeline's cultural dislocation. The heart of the novel, however, lies in Emmeline's recognition of the Arabs' faith in God, a stark contrast to the formal piety, trickery and duplicity of the French. It is for this moral vision that one reads Moore, with admiration. Literary Guild selection. (Jan.)
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