This book was a lucky charity shop find. I’d never read anything by Ann Patchett before, but I fell in love with the rabbit on the cover, and liked the sound of the blurb. I very nearly gave up on it after the first few pages (the idea of someone being allowed in to hold a patient’s hand during an MRI scan dragged me straight back out of the story) but I persevered, and I’m so glad I did.
The book is enchanting, in every sense of the word. The main character Sabine, the magician’s assistant of the title, finds herself on her own after her magician husband Parsifal dies. She already knew Parsifal was gay; what she didn’t know was that he had a whole family, supposedly dead but alive and living in a remote town in Nebraska. The family re-emerge after Parsifal leaves them some money in his will, and Sabine, at first deeply suspicious of their homeliness and their motives, gradually falls under their spell.
The characters felt very real. I particularly liked Parsifal’s mother, Dot, a long-suffering motherly type with a dark secret of her own. Sabine is perhaps a tad passive, but in the presence of this new family she comes to life, sharing their hopes, their worries, their ups and downs. In one way nothing much happens, and yet for Sabine it opens up a whole new window on the world – and I found myself totally engrossed.
On top of that, there are lovely scenes involving Sabine and Parsifal’s magic act; some odd but charming dream sequences where Parsifal’s dead lover Phan passes on sympathy and other-worldly understanding to Sabine; and the possibility of a whole new relationship emerging for her where she least expected it.
There are niggles. One overly long section where Sabine names every road during a drive through Los Angeles got in the way of the story for a page or two. The thing about the MRI scan was never explained (maybe the US approach is different from the UK?). And I did feel that the ending was a little too rushed and undefined.
But this is very much a keeper, not just to sit on the shelves but to take down and re-read, time after time. I’m grateful to that rabbit for making me pick it up!