Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Walking the Labyrinth by Lisa Goldstein

Investigating her family history, Molly slips into a world of magic

Backstage at a vaudeville in Oakland, California, a reporter sits down for an interview with Callan Allalie, patriarch of a family of traveling magicians. As the journalist asks his questions, Callan’s sisters dazzle him with tricks too delicate for the stage. The night quickly whirls out of control as all manner of untold magic warps the writer’s mind, and the next morning, he can’t be sure that he witnessed it at all.

Sixty years later, a private detective confronts Molly, the last descendent of the Allalie clan, to ask questions about one of Callan’s sisters, who seemed to vanish after the performance in Oakland. As Molly delves into the mysteries of the Allalies, she discovers a connection to a shadowy organization of nineteenth-century mystics—and a family secret that will change the way she looks at the world forever.

Goodreads description

I read Walking the Labyrinth in two sittings, which tells you that it is relatively short and easy to read. Lisa Goldstein has a writing style that is economical and deceptively simple. I say deceptively because there is actually quite a lot going on underneath the surface in terms of allegory. 

The concept of walking the labyrinth to find the answer to a  mystery seems to be as old as labyrinths themselves. One could argue that this is a mystery book - there is one murder and one disappearance, and a secret society. And there is the family and its "magical powers". There are of course red herrings (some big ones) too. But I can't say I was that surprised by the denouement. Nor was I surprised to see that at the end Molly realizes the labyrinth she has been walking is her own. Anyone who has read about mystic symbolism will know that. 

"What have you learned?"
"Oh God, you're going to ask me questions again. You're going to ask me what I've learned."
"Well, what have you?"
"I learned--I learned that illusion is a way to truth. That illusion can reveal truth, a deeper truth. That there are things beyond or beneath or on the other side of what most people...think of as reality,"

Magic as a way of illuminating truth is one reason why magic realism exists and works. Molly's metaphysical journey through the labyrinth reflects the reader's.

I would not claim that this book is particularly profound: it isn't. And that is partly because there are some flaws in the plot line. One is the ease with which Molly goes from distrusting the detective to flying off to England with him. Drifting from one temporary job to the next and obsessing over a relationship with the wrong guy (perhaps both are an indication for her need for a family), Molly is nevertheless a strong outspoken character and her change of mind is unexplained.
Despite this quibble, Walking the Labyrinth is an enjoyable read and I shall be recommending it to my niece, who likes this sort of book.

I received this book free from the publisher in return for a fair review.

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