Friday, July 8, 2011

The Prestige

I'm most of the way through Christopher Priest's The Prestige, and it's turning out to be an incredible book, pulling off a number of feats.

The main story is about two rival magicians in late 19th century London.  Priest chose to tell the story from each man's perspective, first one then the other, in a sort of he-said-she-said model.  That kind of story is tricky to pull off, because the second version can often feel repetitive and anti-climactic.  Priest avoids that in a couple of ways; for one, the first account is a memoir written in 1900-3, while the second is a diary, so there are many events that are prominent in one but missing in the other.  More importantly, as we start seeing the truth behind the facade of the second magician's life, the tension is increased by knowing some of what's going to happen.

The major theme of this story is the truth behind a facade.  Priest's narrators remind us several times that the truth is a small thing compared to the illusion, and yet each fails to apply that lesson to the way they he sees his rival.

On a side note, I'm a bit of an enthusiast about stage magic, and it feels to me like Priest has really done his homework.  His taxonomy of the 6 types of trick is one that I've seen elsewhere, his magicians talk properly about misdirection, and so on.  He also uses his time period very effectively -- this is a novel that couldn't work if transported more than a few years in either direction.

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