A twisted, suspicious plot with a strange, enchanting structure. The Prestige book review
The Prestige by Christopher Priest will have you clueless and confident, astonished and suspicious, charmed and furious, all at the same time.
The Prestige is a two-sided story of a pair of feuding magicians in the late 1800’s. The story is told two generations later as their grandchildren read the magicians’ journals. The feud begins when Alfred Borden interrupts a fake séance of Rupert Angier’s, revealing him as a fraud. The event enflames a life-long feud as both magicians rise to popularity. Continuously trying to disrupt one another’s performances, the feud pushes the magicians to the very boundaries of magic, deception, and life itself. As the story encounters many twists and turns, so do the lives of Borden and Angier.
The unique structure was my favorite part of the novel. The magicians’ story is told through their journals and interweaved with the present story of the grandchildren who are now in their 30s. Borden’s journal comes first, covering many years of the feud in a linear fashion. The journal reveals some of Borden’s secrets and provides our first impression of his rival, Angier. After we are told the entire story from Borden’s point of view, the story jumps back to the very beginning and is retold from Angier’s point of view.
Even though the reader is already aware of what is going to happen, Priest does an extraordinary job at exposing new secrets and Angier’s insights to keep the story fresh and exciting.
Old Story, Fresh Point of View
As the reader is introduced to Borden first, and is told the story from his POV, one is driven to take his side and believe his view that Angier is a petty, sometimes cruel man who will not let go of a silly, old grudge. But once the narrative changes to Angier’s POV, that belief muddies. The reader becomes aware that every story has two sides, and depending on who tells the story, the “facts” and the attitude behind them changes drastically. There are multiple points in the second retelling of the story that things that initially seemed unreasonably dramatic make sense once both sides of the story is told. Once the story flips to Angier’s point of view, we realize he had strong reasons for acting the cruel way he did. Slowly but surely, Angier becomes the character I wanted to trust and wanted to come out on top of this feud.
How Priest Keeps an Old Story New
By switching narrators halfway through the novel, Priest pulls out a lot of tricks that need delicate balance. The contrasting personalities of the two men adds interest to the retelling of the story. During each magician’s telling, we must not only learn new, interesting things about the same story but also connect with each narrator at the time of their telling. The deception that magicians live with in order to become successful on the stage is a perfect cover for this structure because in order for a retelling of the same story to be successful, certain secrets must be unknown by each narrator.
Angier’s story, the second journal, extends past the point where Borden’s journal left off. This is another necessary choice by the author to keep the reader interested and the story moving forward. The novel ends where it began, in present time with the grandchildren of the magicians. Although the grandchildren’s story starts off as a slow way to give context to the journals, it ends with a flash of action that ties the entire novel together in an unexpected twist.
5 stars! The plot, the characters, the structure, the mystery, the suspense, they all deserve 5 stars. I specifically recommend the book to all writers because unique, creative structures are something every writer should keep in their “tool box.”
The Prestige was adapted into a major motion picture in 2006 staring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. Although the movie does vary slightly from the book’s plot, it stays true to the major themes of the story. The acting is excellent. The movie and the book are both worth one’s time. If you are a fan of the movie, read the book! It varies enough to keep you interested but you will still enjoy the same main premise.
Posted on October 3, 2014, in Book Review and tagged 5 star book review, book review, books, christopher priest, fiction, journal, magic, movie vs book, point of view, structure, the prestige, writing, writing tips. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.