Tuesday, November 8, 2011

REVIEW: The Prestige, by Christopher Priest

The Prestige, by Christopher Priest. Published 1997 by Tor Books. Literary Fiction. Science Fiction.

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.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

15 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

Aha, this was the book, when discussed, that prompted passionate curse words to erupt from your lips! That was enough of an endorsement for me! Love puzzles.

Nymeth said...

I can't believe I've let this linger ignored on my TBR pile for years and years! Clearly I need to fix that.

chasingbawa said...

I saw the film when it first came out and was just blown away by it. It was so different from anything else that was out at the time. And then I heard it was based on a book. I still haven't read it yet but I've heard SO many good things about it that I really should get to it pronto!

dog eared copy said...

LOL, even though I saw the movie, I couldn't tell you what it was about because I keep confusing it with *another* movie about magicians set in the same approximate time period :-/ I've had the audio edition (narrated by Simon Vance) on hand for a couple of years now; Sounds like I need to move it up on my listening queue!

bermudaonion said...

I saw the movie and thought it was fabulous. I had no idea it's based on a book. I'm sure the book is much better. I'll have to look for it.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds like one of those books I wouldn't get! But I haven't tried any steampunk and if this is sort of steampunkesque maybe it's a good one to try!

Anna said...

I haven't seen the movie and didn't realize it was a book. I'm definitely going to keep this book in mind. You've certainly made me curious about it!

Zibilee said...

I saw the movie many years ago, and totally forgot what it was about, so this is a good place to start with the book. Your incredibly savvy and wonderful review make me think that I need to read this one NOW! It sounds like such an excellent book! Great review, Marie! Going to investigate this one now!

Michael Perry said...

I enjoyed the movie but was blown away by the book. It really turned into a fully robust story and you identified with the characters a great deal more. I almost skipped it at first as I had seen the movie, very glad I didn't.

Lighttsout said...

I am going to read this book now, great blog post!

@thatwriterdude
www.randomjournal.com

Ted said...

I have never heard of this book or its author. Thanks for the enthusiastic introduction!

Kathleen said...

I have never seen the movie so am very excited to read the book first!

bookmagic said...

I didn't realize the movie was based on a novel. I think I'd like to read it because it felt like a lot was missing from the film

Aths said...

I haven't watched the movie but my dad keeps raving about it. I'm glad about it though, because I'd rather check the book out first!

King Rat said...

One of my all time favorite books. Priest is great. Sad that some of his books are no longer in print.