When The Illusionist first appeared, it received mixed reviews. It was generally praised for the inventiveness of its supernatural elements and its lively portrayal of historical figures. Naysayers noted that it was talky and that the dialogue seemed artificial. Despite these critical misgivings, the work was a finalist for Englands prestigious Booker Prize, an achievement all the more remarkable because The Illusionist is Anita Masons second novel, and second novels are notoriously disappointing. It has some resemblance to her first novel, Bethany (1981), which concerned the power a modern-day mystic, also named Simon, wields over his followers.
Masons fiction is not limited to the fantasy genre. In her strongest work, such as Angel (1994; American title Reich Angel, 1994), about a female military pilot flying for the Germans in World War II, she places her characters right at ringside for major events in world history.
In The Illusionist, Mason works against certain traditions of fantasy. Fantasy fiction often delights in the physical reality of its invented worlds. Mason undercuts this characteristic of the genre by emphasizing that Simons magical accomplishments are all illusions. He can create a lush vision of the original Garden of Eden but cannot make anything real, such as food to feed himself when he is hungry. Some scholars also have seen the fantasy genre as a celebration of the...
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