Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Prestige by Christopher Priest

The prestige is the part of a magic trick in which the audience is made to contend with something seemingly impossible and the magician gloats in the stage lights.  Priest novel's features two magicians at the turn of the twentieth century and while they each love to get the reaction from the audience more than this they want to impress and 'one up' each other. 

We see Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier start humbly and then become the top of the game in London.  The feud between them starts rather innocent and comic despite professional ethics as Borden takes exception to the seances conducted by Angier and the money he makes while deceiving the living into thinking that they are communicating with the recently deceased. 

The first part of the book is told by from Borden's point of view by way of a now forgotten book he had written.  Events are primarily comic and move swiftly.  At the conclusion of Borden's book Angier's journal begins and in it we say many of the same events from a different perspective and come to see the nature of their rivalry: the pranks, the sabotage, the attempts to embarrass the other.  We also see some aspects of their rivalry that were a bit darker in their result and much more damaging than we may have come to see in Borden's book.  We also start to see many events involving Borden that was not previously recounted.

As I started wondering 'How many Alfred Borden's are there' Angier starts thinking the same thing as Borden unveils his new illusion which makes him distinctly better and separates him from the pack.  It is as Angier tries to better Borden's trick that the books third primarily character gets involved, and at least in mind, greatly slowed things down.  
Inventor Nikola Tesla is contracted by Angier to build him a electric machine that can duplicate through science that which Angier can't understand how Borden is working his illusion. 

The Prestige is a story of success, rivalry, families and the lives people lead not being what they appear.  Priest does an excellent job of handling the characters voice and making them all sound distinct from each other. It's a very well controlled novel in which the tension between Borden and Angier is always obvious but one in which it's just as easy to tell that there are stronger narrative elements being unravelled than their feud.  It is very absorbing in trying to understand the exact nature of the duplicity that seems to become a theme in itself.  The primarily intrigue is in trying to understand current events that descendants of Borden and Angier go through and putting them in context concerning their ancestors.  It's a long little book one full of many puzzles and magic tricks; the greatest is making you want to start over upon finishing to play the author's game again and see if you got everything right.  


Carl V. Anderson said...

This is one I've been meaning to read for a long time, ever since the film came out to be honest. Every autumn I have it on my list and I really do need to get to it. Also very curious to read the shorter story by Steven Milhauser that they adapted into the film The Illusionist.

Chad Hull said...

Haven't heard of the short story but that sounds fun. The Prestige is certainly worth the time.

Carl V. Anderson said...

Steven Milhauser is an author you should add to your list to check out. His short stories (the good ones anyway) are VERY good and his book Enchanted Night: A Novella is a must read.