You have come to see a magic show. You arrive at the theatre, take your seat. Before the show begins, the magician steps onstage in his street clothes and explains what you are about to see; where the mirrors are hidden – every trapdoor, false bottom, and wire. When the lights go down, impossibly – even after everything you know – you don’t see the trickery, you see magic. Such is the strange conjuring that is Jesse Ball’s Census.
‘My brother Abram Ball died in 1998,’ the author begins, addressing his readers directly in a candid letter that precedes the novel. ‘He was twenty-four years old and had Down syndrome.’ Census, we are told, was born of a desire to capture his brother’s life on the page, not by recharting its course through memoir, but by evoking its nature: ‘something so tremendous and full of light’.