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Prestige [Paperback]

Christopher Priest
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 10 2005 GollanczF.
Two 19th century stage illusionists, the aristocratic Rupert Angier and the working-class Alfred Borden, engage in a bitter and deadly feud; the effects are still being felt by their respective families a hundred years later.
Working in the gaslight-and-velvet world of Victorian music halls, they prowl edgily in the background of each other's shadowy life, driven to the extremes by a deadly combination of obsessive secrecy and insatiable curiosity.
At the heart of the row is an amazing illusion they both perform during their stage acts. The secret of the magic is simple, and the reader is in on it almost from the start, but to the antagonists the real mystery lies deeper. Both have something more to hide than the mere workings of a trick.

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From Amazon

The Washington Post called this "a dizzying magic show of a novel, chock-a-block with all the props of Victorian sensation fiction: seances, multiple narrators, a family curse, doubles, a lost notebook, wraiths, and disembodied spirits; a haunted house, awesome mad-doctor machinery, a mausoleum, and ghoulish horrors; a misunderstood scientist, impossible disappearances; the sins of the fathers visited upon their descendants." Winner of the 1996 World Fantasy Award, The Prestige is even better than that, because unlike many Victorians, Priest writes crisp, unencumbered prose. And anyone who's ever thrilled to the arcing electricity in the "It's alive!" scene in Frankenstein will relish the "special effects" by none other than Nikola Tesla. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Priest, one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists (1983 list), has not been overproductive since he made a small reputation with The Affirmation and The Glamour, published here more than a dozen years ago. His new novel (the title of which refers to the residue left after a magician's successful trick) is enthrallingly odd. In a carefully calculated period style that is remarkably akin to that of the late Robertson Davies, Priest writes of a pair of rival magicians in turn-of-the-century London. Each has a winning trick the other craves, but so arcane is the nature of these tricks, so incredibly difficult are they to perform, that they take on a peculiar life of their own?in one case involving a mysterious apparent double identity, in the other a reliance on the ferocious powers unleashed in the early experimental years of electricity. The rivalry of the two men is such that in the end, though both are ashamed of the strength of their feelings of spite and envy, it consumes them both, and affects their respective families for generations. This is a complex tale that must have been extremely difficult to tell in exactly the right sequence, while still maintaining a series of shocks to the very end. Priest has brought it off with great imagination and skill. It's only fair to say, though, that the book's very considerable narrative grip is its principal virtue. The characters and incidents have a decidedly Gothic cast, and only the restraint that marks the story's telling keeps it on the rails.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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It began on a train, heading north through England, although I was soon to discover that the story had really begun more than a hundred years earlier. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Other reviewers have already mentioned what the story is about (at face value, at least): the rivalry of two Victorian stage magicians - Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier. They have also mentioned how Priest approaches his subject material: after a short introduction, centered on two modern-day descendants of Borden and Angier, the reader is presented with Borden's journal (and hence his version of the feud). After briefly returning to the present day, it's Angier's turn: the lengthiest part of the book deals with his take on events, as set out in his diary. Finally, it's back to the present for a short and sharp conclusion - with horrific overtones (think "Turn Of The Screw" here, not "Night Of The Living Dead").
What other reviewers have not really pointed out yet, however, is the following: the story doesn't make sense. Most importantly, there seems to be no real reason for the magician's feud. Okay, there're reasons it started - good ones, in fact - but no explanation is given as to why it continued (and, indeed, got quite out of hand). In fact, in their respective accounts, both magicians repeatedly mention wishing it to end.
So why didn't it?
Well, there would seem to be two explanations. Firstly, Priest may have purposefully left out essential ingredients in the two magicians' tales, leaving us to figure out their real motives for ourselves. If so, it might well be that "The Prestige" is not just a stylised (if somewhat stilted) exercise in pseudo Victorian romance, but also a well thought-out and intelligent story. In that case, though, I have to admit Priest has set me a challenge I could not meet. Simply put, I read a book I didn't understand.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Different and enjoyable Dec 1 2003
I wasn't really sure what to expect coming into this book. The blurbs on the back are kind of vague, but the positive reviews got me to pick it up. Now I understand why the cover blurb is so vague: it is very difficult to describe the plot of this book. The most general way, without giving away too much, would be to explain that it is the story of two stage magicians in turn of the century (the last century, that is: 1900) England who end up in a feud that escalates in unexpected directions. At the heart of the novel is a mystery, one which the reader is not fully revealed until the last 50 pages of the book. This book won the World Fantasy Award, but I found that it leans more towards sci-fi rather than fantasy. It's sci-fi written in a style that is reminiscent of HG Wells which, considering the time period in which the majority of the book takes place, adds to the flavor of the story.
What drives the book forward is its interesting characters. Throughout the book, the reader encounters four (possibly five, depending on how you look at it) narrators, all told in the first person, be it standard first person narration or from diary entries. On top of this, two of the narrators live in the late 19th century while the other two are from the present day, which serves to heighten the central mystery. Priest does an excellent job of giving each character their own voice and motivations.
As the feud between the two characters living in the 1880s escalates, the reader feels directly involved in the rising tensions and the desparate race of each man to uncover the other's secrets. We also see how this affects the narrators in the present day who happen to be descendants of the earlier two.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Magical fun May 18 2003
This was a lot of fun but probably doesn't warrant repeated reading since it's pretty dependent on plot twists and shocks to hold your interest. With most Christopher Priest novels currently out of print (Dream of Wessex, etc) it's nice to see this one still out there and it's one of his better novels too, which is a nice bonus. Basically it concerns two magicians at the turn of the century who's paths cross and through a series of unpleasant events become bitter rivals, screwing up each other's tricks and driving each other to more and more complicated illusions in a magical game of oneupmanship. This tale is told through two journals as read by their descendants, first one magician, than the other. This style works pretty well, there are some quirks and it probably won't fool anyone who is a Victorian scholar but it looks good enough to me and it's not enough to make me hate the books. What he does an excellent job of is getting us into the world of magicians, without turning the book into a tedious expose of how they do their tricks ('cause it's all about the illusion), you get a glimpse into a sort of exclusive club that's all about convincing you that you're seeing what you shouldn't be seeing. The method of using both journals is a trick that required quite a bit of skill to pull off properly, since the order of the journals make a bit of difference in order to remain surprising and it's interesting to see two different versions of events, especially when one explains the other in greater detail (the only problem with that is that by the time you get to the concurrent event in the second journal, you might have forgotten what happened the first time around). Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book!
So far, this book is a great read. Can't put it down, except to write this review. Would recommend to anyone!
Published 6 months ago by Robert Fratila
3.0 out of 5 stars Not great writing, but a great premise
Granted, I come to this as a result of having seen the film adaptation. (In fact, the very act of adaptation is what compelled me to read it, not the novel itself in a standalone... Read more
Published on Nov. 10 2008 by Schmadrian
4.0 out of 5 stars Double your pleasure, double your fun
Christopher Priest's _the Prestige_ is an entertaining read; well written fantasy without asking us to view the world in any particular new way. Read more
Published on Nov. 16 2002 by David M. Mayeux
2.0 out of 5 stars Bad technique mars good story.
I have no fault with the author's imagination. The plot outline (a generations-long magicians' feud laced with hints of the fantastic) is compelling, and I also don't fault Mr. Read more
Published on April 24 2002 by James Clark
5.0 out of 5 stars AbracaPocus! PocusCadabra! Walla walla washington!
...As you can see, my hands are empty...
Have you noticed that people either loved this book or they hated it? And I mean, they either LUUUUVED it or they H-A-T-E-D it. Read more
Published on Nov. 29 2001 by C. Lester
3.0 out of 5 stars probably pleasing to the niche market
I read this book in a group setting, a book club where I and about 7 of my friends all read the book and discussed it. Read more
Published on Aug. 3 2001 by ProsaicParadise
5.0 out of 5 stars deserves a wider audience
Christopher Priest must be one of the most decorated but unread authors around. In 1983 he was named one of the Best of Young British Novelists. Read more
Published on Nov. 25 2000 by Orrin C. Judd
2.0 out of 5 stars A bright failure
"The Prestige" starts off brilliantly enough--some of the ideas on the nature of illusion gave me shivers (particularly the story of another magician feigning an illness... Read more
Published on Nov. 21 2000 by Fred Kepler
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 stars for memorability
I read this book several years ago and still can't get it out of my mind. In fact, I recommend it all the time to friends who are looking for a great read that's also totally... Read more
Published on Sept. 18 2000 by Lectrice
5.0 out of 5 stars Unsettling mystery where science and sleight-of-hand overlap
Written on the cover of this book is the phrase "Winner of a World Fantasy Award" -- those are the words that first caught my attention. Read more
Published on Aug. 2 2000 by Ivan Askwith
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