Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Christopher Priest – The Prestige

Title: The Prestige
Author: Christopher Priest

ISBN # 0575079061

Publisher: Orion

First Published: 1995

360 pages

Format: Paperback

Rating: 9/10

Two 19th century stage illusionists, the aristocratic Rupert Angier and the working-class Alfred Borden, engage in a bitter and deadly feud; the effects are still being felt by their respective families a hundred years later. Working in the gaslight-and-velvet world of Victorian music halls, they prowl edgily in the background of each other's shadowy life, driven to the extremes by a deadly combination of obsessive secrecy and insatiable curiosity. At the heart of the row is an amazing illusion they both perform during their stage acts. The secret of the magic is simple, and the reader is in on it almost from the start, but to the antagonists the real mystery lies deeper. Both have something more to hide than the mere workings of a trick.

I wasn’t expecting this to start in the present day, so that was a surprise. At first I thought I might be a little disappointed at not getting straight into the thick of the magic aspect (which I knew was set in the 19th Century), but it’s written in such a way that I was hooked from the start. It then quickly switched to the past in the second part, going from being narrated by Andrew Westley, to the personal memoirs of Alfred Borden himself.

It was all rather tantalising. Every time Borden seemed on the verge of making a revelation, he drew back, focusing on the back story and just touching on the beginnings of the feud between Borden and Angier...

The further I read, the better it got! The world of stage magic and illusion is fascinating at the best of times, but this was chock-full of mystery on top of that. I loved how the author kept coming back to the fact that the story was being related through Borden's notebook, throughout which Borden left little notes to himself, and even used the standard tricks of the illusionist (stating the whole "nothing up my sleeve" gambit when making a revelation, in order to relate that he's not hiding anything in the retelling).

In part three, the narrative was continued by a third character - this time one of Rupert Angier's descendants - who was also trying to fill in the blanks where The Great Dante (Angier's stage name) was concerned and who is also intrigued by Borden's descendent and her contemporary.

A fourth part, a fourth voice - now Rupert Angier's side of the story was told from his own diaries, revealing the reasons behind the old enmity between him and Borden that caused them both harm and spanned generations of both the families.

The plot twisted and turned like a twisty-turny thing. Strangely, despite being given every clue, I didn't work it out, which is rather unusual for me (if I say so myself) - I usually cotton onto things, whether it's early on or right before the "big reveal". The finale switched back to modern-day and wrapped up beautifully. I have to say this was quite an extraordinary read and now that I'm finished with it, I'm even more desperate to see the film!

(A big thank you to Marcus J who recommended this book to me – I’ve now found a new author to collect!)


Post a Comment

<< Home