Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Prestige

The Prestige by Christopher Priest is the story of a feud between two stage magicians, around the beginning of the 20th century (mostly) in England. Rupert Angier (stage name "The Great Danton") and Alfred Borden (Le Professeur de la Magie) spend almost as much time retaliating against and spying on each other as they do rehearsing and improving their illusions. It all starts when Borden interrupts a seance being held by Angier. He later regrets his actions, but to Angier, it is unforgivable. The rest of their lives are spent trying to sabotage each other's shows, and when Borden begins performing an illusion he calls The New Transported Man, Angier will stop at nothing to discover the secret to the performance and improve upon it for use in his own act.

I saw the movie adaptation of this when it came out, and knew I had to read the book when I got the chance. I have to admit, though, I was a little disappointed. Don't get me wrong - the book isn't bad. It's just not what I expected, exactly. It starts off slow, and no matter how many times I thought the pace would surely begin to pick up, it did not. That's not to say it was necessarily boring, though! It's been a long time since I saw the movie, so I didn't really remember much about the story, so I was constantly intrigued about how certain things were going to play out, and what was going to happen next. I'm glad I didn't remember the details regarding The New Transported Man from the movie, since I think that would've just made the book boring for me.

I do think the reason the pace felt slow to me is because most of the book is written as if you were reading from the personal journals of Borden and Angier. At the beginning of the book, we meet Andrew Westley, a descendant of Borden. He is summoned to a country manor home by Kate, a descendant of Angier. She has some answers for him regarding a mysterious intuition he has had ever since he was a small child - but the real truth of it isn't discovered until the end of the book, when we've ended both of their journals, and the story loops back around to Andrew and Kate. I think that was my real motivation for getting through the rest of it. I needed to know what was going on with that whole thing.

On the other hand, however, I appreciate that likely the suspense and the mystery would have been ruined or difficult to preserve if the book were narrated in a regular format throughout - by reading the story through Borden's and Angier's journals, we are kept in the dark with a lot of events that are occurring, except of course for the hints that kept me interested in reading to the end. Another aspect of the format I did enjoy was that we got both men's points of view; first, we read from Borden's journal, and we are led to the opinion that Angier is a vindictive man unable to let go, especially after Borden has written an apology that apparently gets ignored. But then we read Angier's journal, and we see his side of the story. It allows much more depth for both characters, because there is not really any clear-cut hero or villain. They both made mistakes and they both have regrets. They both have moments of clarity where they realize how petty they are being with regards to each other. And yet the momentum of their feud doesn't stop.

This book won the World Fantasy Award and also the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, so obviously a lot of people think it's amazing. I didn't love it, but I didn't think it was all that bad, either. I'm glad I read it, though, and I encourage you to read it for yourself and see what you think!



Film Adaptations:
The Prestige

See what others are saying about it, or buy it now:
Better World Books


  1. I really enjoyed the movie when it was in theaters (largely because Christian Bale!!!), and think this book sounds promising. I generally love stories of dueling magicians. Excellent review!

  2. haha, I love Christian Bale too. :)

    You should definitely read this! I was starting to run late for school this morning, so I forgot to mention this aspect of what I liked about the book (will edit to include this in a moment, though, now that I've thought about it) - but I love that we get both of their points of view by reading both of their journals. I really like when I get to know multiple characters well in a story. :)

    Thanks for stopping by!