Tuesday, November 8, 2011
REVIEW: The Prestige, by Christopher Priest
So, yes, The Prestige is the novel on which the 2006 film of the same name was based. But Christopher Priest's extraordinary novel is so much more than what you saw on the screen (and if you didn't see it, wait till after you've read the book, but do see it.)
The Prestige is a puzzle book, a book whose several stories layer and twist over and under each other. When the book opens, Andrew Westley is about to have a meeting with an enigmatic and very wealthy young woman, Kate Angier, who knew him as a child. Something happened when he was a child, and it's that something that Kate wants to talk about. Privately, Andrew has always had the sense that he was a twin, and that somewhere out there, maybe dead, was a missing brother he never knew. There is no evidence to support this feeling- it's just a feeling, and a feeling that will haunt Andrew until he can find out what that something is.
In the next chapter, we meet Alfred Borden via his memoir. Borden is a Victorian-era magician of some repute, engaged in a years-long rivalry with one Rupert Angier, another magician, whose diary we read next. Angier becomes obsessed with discovering the trick to Borden's most celebrated illusion and will stop at nothing to discover the secret and do the trick even better than Borden. The two men spy on each other, play tricks on each other and try to destroy each others' lives. Then we hear from Kate; then it's back to Andrew and the book's devastating conclusion.
Even if you've seen the movie, you don't know Andrew's story.
The Prestige is an amazing book, truly amazing. I would characterize the novel as a highly literary Victorian fantasy, maybe even as steampunk; if you've read The Night Circus and want to step it up a little, The Prestige is a great place to start. There's so much more going on here than the plot or the shocking reveals. Perspective and voice are everything; you never quite know who is speaking to you, who is telling the truth or lying, who you can trust. If you just read for plot you'll be flipping pages madly; if you want to read for more I would advise you to linger over Priest's many tricks and misdirections. It's a magic act in and of itself, this book, and one that I can't recommend highly enough to readers looking for a thrill ride unlike any other you're likely to come across. The Prestige will doubtless appear on my "Best of" list this year and it's one of the best books I've read any year. It's also a stunning introduction to one of the most exciting writers I've come across in years. Amazing, essential and challenging, The Prestige will keep you guessing and thinking long after the final curtain fall.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.