The Halved Man is the apogee of Ada Bates’s career in magic. Under the stage name of the Amazing Arden this death defying illusion is in many ways an analogy for the two men who have orchestrated her traumatic course through life. Clyde and Ray are emotionally and mentally polar opposites but have both left indelible imprints, literally and figuratively, on her heart and mind.
It is Adelaide Herrmann though who provides Ada’s inspiration as her ground breaking performances to late nineteenth century American theatre goers breaks the mould of the traditionally male dominated magic act.
Following in her mentor’s footsteps and taking the stage as a woman in an alien world liberates her from the childhood darkness that stalks her waking moments and lifts her into a world of colour and life where the inexplicable can enrich the imagination. The relative innocence of the age is encapsulated by the dismay and occasional anger of spellbound audiences often quick to associate sleight of hand and trickery with something approaching witchcraft and otherworldliness.
The plot is structured around a police cell confessional in which Ada’s life is laid bare by the relentless questioning of a troubled police officer who believes her responsible for a murder more theatrical and ultimately macabre than an episode of Jonathan Creek. The physical and mental abuse that has dogged her life builds up a picture of a flawed and nearly broken woman but unexpectedly we see the vulnerabilities of the inquisitor revealed at the same pace as that of the accused leaving the reader to wonder if they are both victims of lives irrevocably damaged by pain and misfortune.
Greer Macallister evokes an age when the silent screams of abuse were further suppressed by a gender imbalance that left little room for the female voice. Yet the Amazing Arden shouts out defiance and a need to be heard as the story unravels into one of hope and redemption.
- Rich Review rating: