Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review: The Prestige (1995) by Christopher Priest

The Prestige by Christopher Priest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not even close to what I was expecting, thankfully.

Blurb: Turn of the 20th Century London, two stage magicians embark on a feud of a lifetime propelling both of them to fame and fortune, pain and despair and a couple of shocking discoveries along the way, also framed by the meeting of their great grandchildren still living with the aftermath of the feud.

Thoughts: At its core Christopher Priest's The Prestige (completely different entity to the Christopher Nolan movie adaptation) is an alternative history piece of science fiction but it is rendered in such a way that the reader is misdirected by all the literature that is happening around it.

Told in five and a half parts from five different points of view Priest treats the story as if it too is an illusion or a magic trick, carefully crafting The Setup with three fascinating sections that leave you asking many questions about the content before moving on to the main body of The Performance in which your questions are largely answered, your confusion explained and preparing you for the expected yet still surprising Prestige in the final one and a half parts.

Part of the pleasure in the novel is the way Priest carefully shows you his methods, drawing your attention to the illusion he is creating for you, and then after reaching the conclusion looking back at all of his machinations in wonder.

As a reader I came to this one via two Goodreads friends recently reading it, I remember enjoying Christopher Nolans movie and upon belatedly realising it was a novel first I knew I had to read it. And I really enjoyed reading it, almost compulsively devouring it from the opening chapter, enamoured with the voice and atmosphere created and despite having a fair memory of the plot of the movie still excited by what I was reading.

I've recently been having some serious doubts about Christopher Nolan and his film making abilities and this novel did little to assuage them. Priest, much like Angier in the novel, has created something insurpassable and with his novel he makes Nolan look like a cheap imitator, dumbing down his trick for a wider audience. I'm going to return to the film once Leah has read this book but I can't imagine it will be for much more than to poke holes in the script.

Not that any serious reader will need this warning but I recommend reading the novel first as I felt I lost a little bit of pleasure in having the surprise held in The Prestige ruined for me by the movie. For those that have seen the movie I highly recommend reading this book to add a whole new level of wow to your experience.

Book vs movie, if you've done both what was your preference? Has anyone read any other Christopher Priest books? He seems to have written many books on many different subjects, it's hard to know where to start.

Additional viewing:
The Prestige (2006)
The Illusionist (2010)
The Magician (1958)

Additional reading:
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
Carter Beats The Devil by Glen David Gold
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

View all my book reviews

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