Just Finished Reading: The Prestige by Christopher Priest (FP: 1995) [360pp]
Andrew Westly always seemed to get the strange ones – the stories that often led nowhere and always ended up buried deep in the paper. This time he was investigating stories of a cult leader who had apparently appeared at a conference despite being in prison in the US. But it only got weirder from there. Lady Katherine Angier had quite a story to tell even if it wasn’t the one he expected to hear. The tale dated back to the turn of the century when two feuding stage magicians attempted to out-do each other in being the talk of the town and retaining top billing in their theatre appearances. Always looking for a trick or spectacle that the other couldn’t possibly replicate, until one, Kate’s ancestor went further than anyone thought possible – but at great personal cost. The other magician, Andrew’s ancestor, recognised he had finally been defeated but left a legacy that Andrew had been struggling with since he was adopted many years before. He has always imagined that he was a twin, separated from his brother but still connected somehow. Unfortunately for him, he was going to find out the truth that very night...
I remember enjoying the 2006 movie adaptation by Christopher Nolan starring Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Scarlett Johanssen. Although the core of the book is largely the same, the wrapping, narrative thrust and conclusion are all very, very different. The main story is told in a series of flashbacks and diary entries of both magicians, so we periodically get the same story from both sides (which does nothing for the speed of the narrative) resulting in interesting and sometimes annoying “echoes”. Even without these distractions and diversions the story is often a slow one as both magicians perfect their trade and begin to compete with each other. It might have been that I have limited knowledge and a lack of interest in 19th/early 20th century popular theatre, but I didn’t exactly find this page turning stuff. This was odd as I’m a fan of the author and have read 7 of his novels previously and have enjoyed all of them – and often very much so. This is one reason why I hesitate to regard this as a bad book. It’s possible of course that the author simply dropped the ball here or that the story simply didn’t appeal to me – unlike the others – but I do wonder if it wasn’t just me. I mean, the story itself was interesting with a scientific ‘twist’ that might have been more intriguing if I hadn’t already seen the movie. So, in this case, the prestige – the WOW effect of the trick – was already known, although it's somewhat different in the book that the film. Maybe that’s the reason – the surprise simply wasn’t surprising. On the other hand, the author did take his merry time getting there so there was that. I think what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t enjoy this much, although other people may do so. It hasn’t put me off the author (a score of 7-1 isn’t bad!) and you’ll be seeing his name again here no doubt. Reasonable.
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