The Prestige by Christopher Priest

The prestige

First Published: 2005 by Gollancz (New Ed)
My copy: Bought in Paperback

Memorable quote: “I believe that in this enthralling country, as a new century dawns, anything really is possible, or it can be made possible. My present quest into the unknown heart of this land will give me the secrets for which I hunger.”

Christopher Nolan’s film of The Prestige – a gas-lit tale of the increasingly sinister feud between two rival magicians – is one of my very favourite movies, so I thought it was about time I read the book that inspired it. I’m very glad I did because the book is much more expansive: it actually begins in the present day and shows how the war between Borden and Angier has filtered through the subsequent generations and tainted the lives of their families to come. This frame gives the main story a completely different feel, and leads to a very different – and even more sinister – finale than the one in the film. The novel has different strengths from the film too: some of the stage magic tricks are perhaps less compelling when described than when seen, and Borden’s secret is inevitably harder to mask in text form than visually. But I think Angier gains a lot of depth in the book and aside from the magic and the increasingly fantastical trickery, the real strength in this novel really lies in Priest’s capturing of the fin de siecle blend of optimism and fear. The third major character in the book, after the two showmen, is electricity – embodied in the person of Nikola Tesla- and Priest compellingly explores how this new force contains the potential both to empower and to enslave, perhaps both at the same time. All in all this is a gripping work of historical science-fiction, and even if you’ve seen the film there are few things that may surprise you here.

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