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The Prestige by Christopher Priest

The Prestige (1995)

by Christopher Priest

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2,5621012,345 (3.78)2 / 202

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English (96)  French (2)  Spanish (2)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (101)
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Discussed on The SFFAudio Podcast, Episode 232

It’s difficult to say how long it’s been since I’ve been so enthralled with an audiobook as I was with this unabridged version of the World Fantasy Award-winning The Prestige. In very few words, the production was excellent. Simon Vance narrated, and since the story is primarily told through journal entries of the two main characters, he was basically called upon to portray these two dark, intricate magicians. He unreservedly succeeded – his performance was stellar. Because of his subtle care, the surprises of the novel were enhanced by his reading. And there are many surprises.

The main characters are late 19th century stage magicians (or “prestidigitators”, as they call themselves) named Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier. They perform in London, but at the height of each magician’s popularity, they tour America and Europe. But not together. No, these two guys are mortal enemies, out to better the other by whatever means necessary. Each one in turn performs a trick on stage that seems impossible to the other, and their personal quests are rooted in finding out how the other does it, and then to perform it better.

The novel is filled with fascinating detail about these magicians and their tricks. But even more interesting are the journals themselves. It becomes quickly apparent that the journal writers are not reliable. Christopher Priest was masterful in the way he made sure that the journal writers were speaking squarely from their own point of view, which was not always technically true; rather, like journal writers everywhere, they would write something about their own motives that justified events to themselves. The result is an intricate web that is slowly unraveled throughout the book. It’s an audiobook that merits a second listen; knowing what I know now, having finished, a second listen would reveal the breadcrumbs I missed along the way. I suspect I left several on the trail.

Also prominent is Priest’s portrayal of life in the 19th century. The values, the language, and the daily life of the characters all feel accurate, though I am no 19th century historian. The world’s reaction to the advent of electricity is a fascinating example. I couldn’t help but to think of modern parallels with the advent of the internet.

At first glance, this novel is fantasy. It even won the World Fantasy Award in 1996. But is this a fantasy novel? It really isn’t. Yes, there are magicians here, but they are stage magicians. As such, their tricks have perfectly reasonable explanations. Each of the main characters do specific remarkable things, but the reasons given for the way these things work are not magical, but scientific. More, I will not say, because this is a novel to be discovered for yourself, not to be read about. After I finished the book, I watched the recent film version. Be assured that there are enough major differences that a listen to this book will be a different (though similar) and very worthwhile experience – worthwhile enough to be the latest addition to SFFaudio’s Essential List.

(I originally posted this review at SFFaudio: http://www.sffaudio.com/review-of-the-prestige-by-christopher-priest/) ( )
  ScottDDanielson | Oct 16, 2015 |
All right, in this case, as someone has already said it, the movie was better than the book. Done. ( )
  supercoldd | Aug 27, 2015 |
Woah, that was a great story! I think I'm a Christopher Priest fan now.
Love the story for it's historical aspects, and that it spanned two separate characters entire adult lives and beyond making the story deeper. ( )
  untitled841 | Aug 20, 2015 |
When I finished The Prestige, I wanted to flip back to the beginning of the book and start the whole thing again. You'll understand if you've read Christopher Priest's intricate historical novel about dueling magicians.

Borden and Angier both set out to make careers in the magic business in England at the end of the nineteenth century. They should have been friends, but both circumstance and their personalities turned them into enemies, each seeking to both outdo and to ruin the other. Then Borden comes up with an illusion called The New Transported Man and Angier is desperate to find out how he did it and to exceed it, which he goes to some length to do.

There's a familiar pattern to The Prestige; the historical tale framed by a modern discovery and of a story that only becomes clear as all the various threads come together. But the expected structure helps to give firm footing to an unbelievable series of events, that Priest guides the reader through in such a way as to make the most fantastic of events seem reasonable.

This is a fun read that insists that the reader keep their mind fully engaged as a moment's inattention will leave you floundering. ( )
  RidgewayGirl | Jan 28, 2015 |
I really did rather like this book. I like the writing, and the multiple voices used appealed to me. Some parts dragged (the Angier bit in particular) but overall it was enjoyable enough.

And then it ended.

I'm not even sure if that's WHY I'm taking a star off, or what. I'm not sure about anything because I'm not sure what the fuck even happened. I read it like three times trying to work out what was going on in the last five pages and I got absolutely nothing. Not a sausage. Which I think I kind of like? I have no idea. I'm taking a star off for this weird unsettled feeling I have. Because I can. ( )
  thebookmagpie | Oct 19, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 96 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Christopher Priestprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bracceli, Giovanni BattistaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It began on a train, heading north through England, although I was soon to discover that the story had really begun more than a hundred years earlier.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312858868, Paperback)

The Washington Post called this "a dizzying magic show of a novel, chock-a-block with all the props of Victorian sensation fiction: seances, multiple narrators, a family curse, doubles, a lost notebook, wraiths, and disembodied spirits; a haunted house, awesome mad-doctor machinery, a mausoleum, and ghoulish horrors; a misunderstood scientist, impossible disappearances; the sins of the fathers visited upon their descendants." Winner of the 1996 World Fantasy Award, The Prestige is even better than that, because unlike many Victorians, Priest writes crisp, unencumbered prose. And anyone who's ever thrilled to the arcing electricity in the "It's alive!" scene in Frankenstein will relish the "special effects" by none other than Nikola Tesla.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:14 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

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, both men 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.… (more)

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