Millroy the Magician Critical Essays

Paul Theroux

Millroy the Magician

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Paul Theroux’s thirtieth book centers around the relationship between Jilly Farina, an unwanted teenager, and Millroy, a magician obsessed with nutrition and bowel movements. Millroy convinces Jilly to become his companion/assistant as he abandons the carnival to become first a local celebrity on a Boston children’s television program and later the star of a nationwide show dealing with foods mentioned in the Bible. The latter enterprise is supported by a chain of diners serving the grains, beans, and melons Millroy claims will allow his adherents to live two hundred years.

MILLROY THE MAGICIAN is narrated by Jilly, who is never quite certain of what her mentor is up to. Theroux intends that the reader is also kept off balance, eagerly awaiting the latest revelation about Millroy’s secrets, especially his plans for Jilly, whom he dresses as a boy and calls Alex and Rusty. The many targets of Theroux’s satire include the growing American obsession with management and marketing techniques, the way the media create and destroy celebrities, and the desperate hunger of many Americans for a religious faith that will improve their lives. Millroy denies vehemently that his teachings form a religion while the media continue to compare him to Sinclair Lewis’ evangelical villain Elmer Gantry although Millroy asks not for money or followers but that people change the way they eat.

MILLROY THE MAGICIAN resembles Theroux’s 1982 novel THE MOSQUITO COAST, in which a young teenager conveys the efforts of his mad father to escape the bounds of civilization. Millroy has grander yet more realistic goals, but his story, while always interesting, is never as surprising as it might have been. Theroux displays more compassion for his characters than usual, but the typical lack of humor makes the novel seem too cold blooded.

Sources for Further Study

The Economist. CCCXXIX, November 20, 1993, p. 111.

Library Journal. CXVIII, October 15, 1993, p. 90.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. March 20, 1994, p. 8.

New Statesman and Society. VI, October 8, 1993, p. 38.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, March 6, 1994, p. 9.

The New Yorker. LXX, March 14, 1994, p. 92.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, March 7, 1994, p. 48.

Time. CXLIII, March 7, 1994, p. 69.

The Times Literary Supplement. October 8, 1993, p. 26.

The Wall Street Journal. April 11, 1994, p. A12.